Beware side effects of cancer treatments

Marilynn Marchione / The Associated Press
Published Jan 31, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

A new study shows how important it is for men to carefully consider treatments for early-stage prostate cancer. Fifteen years after surgery or radiation treatment, nearly all of the older men in the study had some problems having sex.

About one-fifth had bladder or bowel trouble, researchers found.

The study doesn’t compare these men — who were 70 to 89 at the end of the study — to others who did not treat their cancers or to older men without the disease. At least one study suggests that half that age group has sexual problems even when healthy.

The study isn’t a rigorous test of surgery and radiation, but it is the longest follow-up of some men who chose those treatments.

Since early prostate cancers usually don’t prove fatal — but there are no good ways to tell which ones really need treatment — men must be realistic about side effects they might suffer, said one study leader, Dr. David Penson of Vanderbilt University.

“They need to look at these findings and say, ‘Oh my gosh, no matter what I choose, I’m going to have some quality-of-life effect and it’s probably greater than my doctor is telling me,’” he said.

The study appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men.

In the United States alone, there were about 240,000 new cases and 28,000 deaths from the disease last year.