Prostate Cancer - The role of the partner
Although problems with the prostate gland will eventually affect more than half of American men, it's a topic that many would rather not talk about. The personal and sexual nature of prostate problems embarrasses many men and keeps them from getting a quick, painless examination that can detect disorders soon enough for effective treatment. In the case of prostate cancer, the treatment could be life saving. Not only does this condition affect the man, prostate cancer also has an impact on the man's partner or significant other.
I will never forget the discussion I was having with a man with newly diagnosed prostate cancer and we were reviewing the treatment options for prostate cancer, which included surgical removal of the prostate gland. The man interrupted our discussion to declare that if there was a chance he might lose his erections, he would just rather die. His wife calmly looked over and reminded him that although their sexual relations were nice, she would much rather have him around several more years than be a lonely widow simple because of a few lost erections. With that the man asked me to resume my discussion about his options.
The two most dreaded complications of surgery are impotence, the failure to obtain and maintain an erection adequate for intercourse, and urinary incontinence or the persistent loss of urine. Fortunately, these two complications are not very common and when they do occur there are solutions that can restore a man's erection and his urinary continence after prostate gland surgery. Now with new surgical techniques a man's sex life may be unaffected by treatment, and incontinence, if it occurs, can often be reversed.
The importance of men over 40 getting an annual prostate exam cannot be overstated. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among American men and the second most fatal. Nearly 317,000 men will develop prostate cancer this year and over 40,000 will die of it. Early detection greatly improves the odds. There are no symptoms of early prostate cancer and requires a painless digital rectal exam and a blood test, the PSA test.
In addition to prostate cancer, over 50% of men between the ages of 60 and 70 have symptoms of benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH). The symptoms of BPH include difficulty with urination, getting up at night to urinate, and in severe cases urinary retention, which is a medical emergency. BPH is a non-cancerous prostate problem, but may require medical treatment to halt the progression of the disease.
As women usually do so well in times of crisis, she may serve as the stable pillar for the family during a man's illness. Men with the diagnosis of cancer would do well to include their wife or significant other in the decision-making process. Men should let their partner know that their input is important and listen to what the women has to say. In these situations, women tend to have more common sense and a better ability to step back and look at the total picture.
Women can play an important, supportive role by encouraging their spouse, male friends and relatives over 40 to get an annual exam - and to recognize potential symptoms and problems. Men need to have the same awareness about prostate cancer exams and treatment that women have about mammograms and Pap tests.
Reprinted with permission from Neil Baum MD (neilbaum.com).
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