Loss of ejaculatory ability is high after radiation therapy


Patients who have surgery as their primary treatment for prostate cancer know that after their surgery they will have lost the ability to ejaculate at orgasm — making orgasm feel very different to their prior experience. It has not been so clear that — over time — the same applies to most radiation therapy patients.

A presentation from the annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) that few appear to have noted at the time of the actual meeting has just been featured on Medscape. Stember et al. reported at the meeting on data from 364 consecutive patients treated with various types of radiotherapy and followed for and average (mean) of 6.0 ± 4.5 years. As indicated, Medscape has offered a summary of the actual presentation.

Here are the basic data presented by Stember et al.:

  • 252/364 patients were treated with external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and most of these patients (n  = 225) receive intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).
  • 112/364 patients were treated with brachytherapy, of whom 84 received brachytherapy only and 28 received a boost of EBRT.
  • The average age of the patients was age was 64 years (range, 42 to 78 years).
  • 262/364 patients (72 percent) had lost the ability to ejaculate in a normal (“antegrade”) manner at the time of their last follow-up visit to the clinic.
  • The proportion of patients experiencing inability to ejaculate (“anejaculation”) at 1, 3, and 5 years after radiation therapy was 16, 69, and 89 percent, respectively.
  • Orgasm domain scores decreased dramatically over the follow-up period (for men who completed at least two of the relevant questionnaires): from 7.4 at < 12 months follow-up to 2.8 at > 36 months of follow-up.
  • The probability of anejaculation appeared to be higher in men who received combination therapy (brachytherapy + EBRT), were of older age, and had smaller prostates.

The authors concluded that, “The vast majority of men after prostate RT will experience anejaculation and should be counseled accordingly prior to undergoing therapy.”

Quoted in the Medscape article referenced above, Dr. John Mulhall, the senior author of this study stated that, “Anejaculation is an inevitable and well-recognized sequela of radical prostatectomy and may represent a significant source of bother and sexual dissatisfaction. Loss of ejaculation or a severe decrease in ejaculate volume has been associated with a self-reported deterioration in sexual activity.” It seems likely, however, that at least some men are choosing to have radiation therapy over surgery because of a mistaken impression that they will retain normal ejaculatory function.  Anejaculation after radiation therapy appears to have been significantly under-reported in the medical literature in the past, and the published data on this issue are few and far between. Clinical experience — by contrast — suggests that this is a common consequence of pelvic radiation therapy.

15 Responses

  1. At 2.75 years after EBRT/IMRT, pelvic cavity + prostate target, I find this article to be very true. However, I did not choose this treatment to retain ejaculation. I chose this treatment because with 12 of 12 cores, it was a high probability that prostate cancer had left the barn.

  2. I had radiation therapy about 2 years ago. Ejaculation is becoming an increasing “challenge.” The amount of ejaculate is far less and not a bother to me. What does the future hold?

    I am 72, in good physical shape, and been very sexually active all my life. I take no medication other than half a Viagra to perform sex.

  3. Mr. Newton:

    I would suggest that you joined our social network to seek input from others on reasonable expectations.

  4. I would love to hear how other men are coping or overcoming this problem.

  5. James:

    If you join our social network, dealing with post-treatment sexual function is a common topic of conversation.

  6. I had radiation treatment for my prostate cancer about a year ago. My ejaculations have decreased in volume since that treatment.

  7. I’m going for a check-up on Friday. My question will, of course, be “How much time do I have left” … for ejaculation response. I had my radiation therapy in 2003.

    Jim Newton

  8. I have iatrogenic acquired anejaculation due to radiation therapy for anal cancer. I was never made aware of this by my radiation therapist. I am hoping that the urologist I see next month will be able to restore function. At 55 years old I am very much negatively affected by ejaculatory failure and the failure on the doctor’s part to tell me about this vital information. When I questioned him in writing about it post-treatment, he provided no response at all.

  9. I had radiation 3 years ago. For a while I had painful, bloody, dry ejaculations. Now even an erection is impossible, even with 10 mg of cialis. Ejaculation is non-existent. Still having pain on urination. Not amused or pleased by any of this. Wish I had never had anything done.

  10. Radiation 2 years ago for prostate cancer. 67 years old and still no erection or ejaculation. Help!!

  11. My urologist was not even sympathetic about my loss of ejaculation and the pleasurable sensations. I studied the Internet for any/all information concerning negative side effects following radiation and only found ED that could be dealt with a vacuum pump … nothing about total loss of ejaculation. It was stated that the prostate would no longer contribute to the volume, but nothing about the various sources of lubrication. I don’t blame my oncologist but I feel the urologist was negligent in his obligation. Having a PSA of 0.1 or 0.2 is little trade-off for the other surprise losses. Maybe a class action can be taken?

    R. Adams, 2+ years after external radiation

  12. Radiation treatment in January 2010. … Still no ejaculation, but erection no problem, thanks to vacuum pump (Erec-Tec the best). I’m 67 years old, but sex will never be the same.

  13. Dear Tom:

    If your radiation therapy was properly executed so as to eliminate your prostate cancer, this would have killed all the cells in your prostate (not just the cancerous ones). The consequence is that patients so treated are never going to be able to recover normal ejaculatory function.

  14. I completed the 42 IMRT treatments 7 months ago and I have little ejaculate and what is there is clear and viscous. It had been less and less and now I’m having a constant ache in the prostate area which the urologist says is the result of radiation reaching the bladder. Radiation is the gift that keeps on giving. He didn’t stress this possibility but did “mention” it in passing. I am not a happy camper and, at this point, a PSA of 1.2 is meaningless. Sex will never be the same. I could cry.

  15. I’ve been “cancer free” for 3 years now. I have also been sex free. The first year there were no erections. Then after Viagra I was able to get a patrial erection, although my penis is very bent and uneven. After 3 years they discovered I had very low testosterone. I asked them to check for 3 years and they completely ignored me.finally I went to a new doctor (at the V.A. Hospital) who tested and put me on Andro-gel.

    Now I get erections but it is very painful to ejaculate, which is quite rare, maybe once monthly. It is a burning and pressure pain like I was trying to pass peanut butter. Doctors are totally dismissive of any of this. I feel a strong need to ejaculate but it never feels complete and burns for 5-10 minutes almost unbearably.

    Sound familiar?

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