A prostate cancer diagnosis has the ability to strike fear in the hearts of many men. The fear is a normal reaction as men diagnosed with the disease consider the potential side effects from treatment and how it may affect their sexual relationships.
Depression, negative body image and performance anxiety are some of the symptoms prostate cancer survivors face that can lead to a lack of intimacy and, ultimately, to sexual dysfunction.
The ability to have a satisfying sexual experience after treatment may vary, depending on the patient and treatment dynamics. The reality is that men are not the only ones affected by the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
Leslie Schover, Ph.D. a behavioral scientist at MD Anderson, was lead investigator on the CAREss (Counseling About Regaining Erections and Sexual Satisfaction) trial that focused on determining whether couples counseling after prostate cancer treatment had a positive effect on sexual outcomes.
"Many prostate cancer survivors are not comfortable talking to their spouses or doctors about their lack of sexual intimacy and the ability to achieve erections and reach orgasms. So, it was important for us to incorporate couples counseling as part of the trial," Schover says.
The trial randomized 115 heterosexual couples into three groups:
- An Internet-based sexual counseling group
- A face-to-face counseling group
- A wait list group that received delayed counseling
Findings from the trial, published in the Sept. 26 issue of the journal Cancer, revealed that Internet-based counseling programs and standard face-to-face therapy sessions for couples improved the sex lives of prostate cancer survivors as well as their spouses.
"This is promising, as it lends us opportunities to develop web-based content and programs that will be beneficial to survivors with limited resources and limited ability to travel to face-to-face counseling sessions," Schover says.
Another positive result of the trial was the significant improvement in both partners' sexual function, even at one-year follow-up.