While prostate cancer detection and treatments have significantly improved survival rates for men (95% after five years) the impact on their sexual and mental health can have serious consequences.
Erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, penile shrinkage, fatigue, lack of desire and changes to body image are some of the key challenges men with prostate cancer experience.
“Added to this burden is the additional strain that prostate cancer places on the couple’s relationship,” says Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse Gay Corbett.
Having worked in the Grampians region in Western Victoria for the past four and a half years, Gay has seen post prostate cancer treatment “assault a man’s perception of self and lead to depression, anxiety and stress.”
But few health professionals are equipped to deal with the aftermath. She says they cite lack of experience, time, knowledge and embarrassment as reasons for not addressing sexual wellbeing.
Meanwhile, the need exists for men to discuss their concerns and to develop strategies to cope with sexual changes, while continuing to nourish intimate relationships, if they are in one.
Gay is running a 90-minute nurse-led pilot program in Ballarat each month called ‘When prostate cancer joins you in the bedroom,’ to provide support, break apart myths around the subject, normalise men’s experiences and improve sexual communication.
The workshops are capped at 14 and were a direct result of prostate cancer patients asking for help.
“Two years after surgery for prostate cancer men report sexual bother as a very significant issue,” she says.
For some, says Gay, this is the first time they have had an opportunity to discuss and learn how to improve their sexual wellbeing.
Common issues raised include how to navigate their way through altered sexual responses, how to initiate discussion, what techniques are available and ‘do other men feel the same as me.’
Gay has received $20,000 from the Victorian Nurses Board (Rosemary Kelley Fellowship) to analyse the impact on the intervention. If the program is seen to benefit participants (and their partners), it will certainly expand. She will be tracking the impact of the workshop on participants at three and six-month intervals.
Already she is seeing improved intimacy and communication between couples, and better self-esteem and self-worth.
She hopes the program will lead to further support for men with prostate cancer. There are currently prostate cancer specialist nurses in 45 locations nationally. This program is supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.
“Nurses are well-placed to discuss intimacy needs,” she says. But health professionals also need further training to work effectively in the field. “I had to go to Canada to learn more, and took up a scholarship looking at prostate centres there. I also did some online courses.”
TAKE ACTION FOR MEN'S HEALTH
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP (Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia)
DOWNLOAD: Maintaining wellbeing with prostate cancer
READ: Nurses give tips on working with men (AMHF)
DOWNLOAD: Are nurses meeting the needs of men in primary care? (AMHF)