What to expect after surgery
This is a general overview of what to expect. Everyone will respond to surgery differently. Whichever surgical method is used, a radical prostatectomy is major surgery and you will need time to recover.
Learn more about:
After surgery for prostate cancer
You can expect to return to your usual activities within about six weeks of the surgery. Usually you can start driving again in a couple of weeks, but heavy lifting should be avoided for six weeks.
Pain and discomfort
It’s common to have pain after the surgery, so you may need pain relief for a few days.
Having a catheter
After a radical prostatectomy you will have a thin, flexible tube (catheter) in your bladder to drain your urine into a bag. The catheter will be removed after 1–2 weeks once the wound has healed.
Side effects of prostate cancer surgery
The nerves needed for erections and the muscle that controls the flow of urine (sphincter) are both close to the prostate. It may be very difficult to avoid these during surgery, and any damage can cause problems with erections and bladder control. Sometimes the nerves will need to be removed to try to ensure all cancer is removed.
Loss of bladder control
You can expect to have some light dribbling or trouble controlling your bladder for some weeks to months after a radical prostatectomy. This is known as urinary incontinence or urinary leakage. You can use continence pads to manage urinary leakage. Bladder control usually improves in a few weeks and will continue to improve for up to a year after the surgery. In the long term, some people will continue to have some light dribbling. Some people may consider having an operation to fix urinary incontinence. In rare cases, people have no control over their bladder. For help managing these problems, see Urinary problems.
Changes in erections (impotence)
Problems getting and keeping erections after prostate surgery are common. Erections may improve over months to a few years. It’s more likely you won’t get strong erections again if erections were already difficult before the operation. For more information, see Erection problems.
Changes in ejaculation
During a radical prostatectomy, the tubes from the testicles (vas deferens) are sealed and the prostate and seminal vesicles are removed. This means semen is no longer ejaculated during orgasm (a dry orgasm). Your orgasm may feel different – for some people it may be uncomfortable or, rarely, painful. Some people may leak a small amount of urine during orgasm (this is not harmful to you or your partner).
A radical prostatectomy will cause infertility and you will not be able to conceive a child without medical assistance. If you wish to have children, talk to your doctor before treatment about sperm banking or other options.
Changes in penis size
You may notice that your penis gradually becomes a little shorter after surgery. Talk to your doctor about whether vacuum erection devices and prescription medicines may help. Changes to the size of your penis can be difficult to deal with. Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 for ways to get support.
For more information about preparing for surgery and what to expect during and after, see our general section on Surgery or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
A/Prof Ian Vela, Urologic Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Queensland University of Technology, and Urocology, QLD; A/Prof Arun Azad, Medical Oncologist, Urological Cancers, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Nicholas Brook, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital and A/Prof Surgery, The University of Adelaide, SA; Peter Greaves, Consumer; Graham Henry, Consumer; Clin Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician and Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics, and Notre Dame University Australia, WA; Henry McGregor, Men’s Health Physiotherapist, Adelaide Men’s Health Physio, SA; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Department of Urology, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Dr Tom Shakespeare, Director, Radiation Oncology, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore Public Hospitals, NSW; A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Daffodil Centre, Cancer Council NSW; Allison Turner, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse (PCFA), Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Michael Walkden, Consumer; Prof Scott Williams, Radiation Oncology Lead, Urology Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Professor of Oncology, Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, The University of Melbourne, VIC.
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