- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Erection problems
Trouble getting or keeping an erection firm enough for intercourse is called erectile dysfunction or impotence. While the quality of erections usually declines with age, it can also be affected by worrying about the cancer or damage to the nerves during surgery or radiation therapy.
Erectile dysfunction can sometimes improve. There are also many products to treat the problem, including penile injection therapy, penile implants and PDE5 inhibitor drugs (e.g. Cialis or Viagra), available by prescription. There are also herbal preparations, nasal sprays and lozenges that contain testosterone, but check with your treatment team before using any of these.
Learn more about:
- Help keep erectile tissue healthy while nerves heal from surgery by engaging in foreplay and other sexual activity with your partner.
- Try having sex with a half-erect penis. This may work best with the partner on top guiding the penis inside. This stimulation may encourage further and better erections.
- Help satisfy your partner and yourself without sexual penetration. Experiment with all-over touching, oral sex, masturbation or sex aids.
- Ask your doctor about other ways to improve erections, such as tablets or injections, or get a referral to a specialist.
- If your cancer specialists say it is safe to use with your type of cancer, you could consider testosterone replacement therapy. This may help if you have low testosterone levels.
Ways to improve erections
There are several medical options available for trying to improve the quality of your erections. Ask your treatment team for more details about these methods.
Vacuum erection deviceA vacuum erection device (VED) or vacuum pump device uses suction to draw blood into the penis to make it firm and help maintain a natural erection.
Penile injection therapyThis has to be prescribed by a doctor. You will be taught to inject the penis with medicine that makes blood vessels in the penis expand and fill with blood, causing an erection. The erection usually lasts 30-60 minutes.
ImplantsA penile prosthesis is inserted during surgery. Flexible rods or thin, inflatable cylinders are placed in the penis and connected to a pump in the scrotum. The pump is turned on or squeezed when an erection is desired.
Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, inSync for Life, WA; Anita Brown-Major, Occupational Therapist, Thrive Rehab, VIC; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Consultant, Gynae-oncology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Headway Health and Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Kath Schubach, Urology Nurse Practitioner, President – Australia and New Zealand Urological Nurses Society (ANZUNS), VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Maria Voukelatos, Consumer. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.