Chemotherapy and erectile dysfunction as a side effect of treatment is a possibility that men need to discuss with their healthcare providers. Chemotherapy involves taking drugs that kill cancer cells or prevent them from multiplying. It is usually administered via intravenous lines and/or orally and is reserved for men who have stage III or IV cancers, cancer that reappears despite surgery, cancer that has spread beyond the prostate, or for men who no longer respond to hormone therapy. If any of these situations describe you, it is time for you and your doctor and a medical oncologist to talk about chemotherapy and erectile dysfunction risk.
Different types of chemotherapy drugs can be effective at different times during the growth cycle of cancer cells, which is why physicians often prescribe a combination of drugs and/or try a variety of doses to find the treatment that is most effective and least toxic. The hope when taking chemotherapy drugs is that they will shrink the cancer and make it disappear, or at the very least, relieve symptoms. More on Chemotherapy
The use of chemotherapy drugs often slows down the amount of testosterone the body produces, which in turn can have a negative impact on erectile function. Some chemotherapy agents, including cisplatin and vincristine, can interfere with the nerves that help control erections, and thus possibly cause erectile dysfunction. Generally, along with a reduction in testosterone production, some men also have significant declines in sperm production, which will in turn affect ejaculation. In addition, some of the medications used to control the nausea that frequently affects men who are undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer can cause an imbalance in hormones and also affect sexual function.
Because chemotherapy rapidly kills dividing cancer cells, it also kills other rapidly dividing healthy cells, such as the membranes that line the mouth, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and hair follicles. Therefore the side effects associated with chemotherapy can be nasty, although they are mostly temporary and can vary, depending on which drug is used. Erectile dysfunction is one of the more common side effects associated with chemotherapy. More on Side Effects of Chemotherapy
The good news about chemotherapy and erectile dysfunction is that problems with sexual function are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. Sperm counts also often return to normal levels once treatment ends, although it can take many months or even years for this to occur.