Cryosurgery and erectile dysfunction as a side effect is a topic that should be discussed by men who choose cryosurgery as a treatment for prostate cancer. Also referred to as cryotherapy, cryosurgery involves inserting one or more ultrathin cryoneedles (also called cryoprobes) into the prostate and circulating argon gas to freeze the cancer cells. After cryosurgery, the frozen tissue thaws and is absorbed by the body. Cryosurgery is currently indicated for men who have low-risk prostate cancer as an alternative to prostatectomy or radiation, in men for whom surgery is too risky, and for men who have not responded to radiation therapy. Read More on Cryosurgery for Prostate Cancer
Cryosurgery and erectile dysfunction risk is just one of several concerns facing men who undergo cryosurgery, but it is the one men typically find to be the most distressing. Read More on Side Effects of Cryosurgery.
In fact, erectile dysfunction is the most common side effect of cryosurgery; it is more common after cryosurgery than following radical prostatectomy, affecting as many as 80 to 9% of men who undergo the procedure. Several studies report erectile dysfunction was nearly 90 percent one year after the procedure was performed. (Han, Hubosky, Polascik)
In a 2010 study published in Nature Reviews Urology, researchers compared the rate of erectile dysfunction following cryosurgery versus EBRT radiation. They found that of the 56 men in the cryosurgery group, 62% were capable of unassisted intercourse before the procedure, but only 22% were able to have either assisted or unassisted sexual intercourse at 36 months after cryosurgery. These figures were compared with those of the 57 men in the EBRT group: 55% were capable of unassisted intercourse before treatment, compared with 36% who could achieve assisted or unassisted intercourse at 36 months. (Roach)
For men who are considering cryosurgery, those who are already experiencing erectile dysfunction and those who are not sexually active may not find the high risk of erectile dysfunction to be an important issue. However, it can be a highly significant factor for many men and needs to be explained before men undergo cryosurgery. An experimental procedure called focal cryoablation may be helpful in reducing the chances of erectile dysfunction. (Singh)
Roach M. Prostate cancer: worse sexual function after cryoablation. Nature Reviews Urology 2010 Mar; 7: 122-24