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Just for Men

The common side effects of prostate surgery.

WebMD Feature

March 6, 2000 (Mill Valley, Calif.) -- Frank Luton was in his mid-40s when he had to make a harrowing choice. During a routine physical examination, Luton's doctor discovered a hard spot in his prostate -- a lump that proved to be malignant. Luton opted to have his prostate removed, even though he knew there was a chance the surgery could leave him impotent and incontinent.

Today, at age 57, the former corporate executive from Stone Mountain, Ga., is alive and well and traveling the world as a business consultant. But just as he feared, the operation that saved his life left him incontinent for the first six months and permanently impotent. He now uses a penile implant to restore sexual functioning.

Doctors have long known that both impotence and incontinence can result from prostate cancer surgery. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that these consequences may be more common than previously thought. A report in the January 19, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association detailing the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study indicated that 59.9% of men studied were impotent and 8.4% were incontinent for at least 18 months after surgery.

"Impotence as a result of radical prostatectomy is a much larger problem than is often quoted in the media," says Janet L. Stanford, Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and co-author of the study. Indeed, impotence was common even when doctors used new surgical techniques designed to spare nerves near the prostate that control urine flow and erections.