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Living with

Depending of the type of prostate cancer you have, your life may be affected in different ways.

Prostate cancer often gets worse slowly, and men may have it for years without symptoms. During this time, men with low-risk prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate gland may not need treatment.

Men whose cancer is more likely to spread may decide to have surgery or radiotherapy that aims to cure the cancer. However, these treatments can have side effects.

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If you have no symptoms, prostate cancer should have little or no effect on your everyday activities. You should be able to work, care for your family, carry on your usual social and leisure activities, and look after yourself.

However, you may be understandably worried about your future. This may make you feel anxious or depressed and affect your sleep.

If your prostate cancer progresses, you may not feel well enough to do all the things you used to. After an operation or other treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, you'll probably feel tired and need time to recover.

If you have advanced prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of your body, you may have symptoms that slow you down and make it difficult to do things. You may have to reduce your working hours or stop working altogether.

Whatever stage your prostate cancer has reached, try to give yourself time to do the things you enjoy and spend time with those who care about you.

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Erection problems

If you have erectile dysfunction, speak to your GP. It may be possible to treat you with a type of medicine called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5). PDE5s work by increasing the blood supply to your penis.

The most commonly used PDE5 is sildenafil (Viagra). Other PDE5s are available if sildenafil is not effective.

Another alternative is a device called a vacuum pump. It's a simple tube connected to a pump. You place your penis in the tube and then pump out all the air.

This creates a vacuum, which causes the blood to rush to your penis. You then place a rubber ring around the base of your penis. This keeps the blood in place and allows you to maintain an erection for around 30 minutes.

Urinary incontinence

If your urinary incontinence is mild, you may be able to control it by learning some simple exercises. Pelvic floor exercises can strengthen your control over your bladder.

To carry out pelvic floor exercises:

  1. Sit or lie comfortably, with your knees slightly apart.
  2. Squeeze or lift at the front as if you were trying to stop the passage of urine, then squeeze or lift at the back as if you were trying to stop the passage of wind.
  3. Hold this contraction for as long as you can (at least 2 seconds, increasing up to 10 as you improve).
  4. Relax for the same amount of time before repeating.

If your urinary incontinence is more severe, it may be possible to treat it with surgery. This would involve implanting an artificial sphincter – a sphincter is a muscle used to control the bladder.

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Being diagnosed with prostate cancer often brings families and friends closer, although it can put pressure on relationships, too.

Most people want to help, although they may not know what to do. Some people find it hard to talk about cancer and may try to avoid it.

Being open and honest about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put others at ease. But do not feel shy about telling people you want some time to yourself, if that's what you need.

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If you have questions, your doctor or nurse may be able to reassure you, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline. Your GP surgery will have information on these.

Some men find it helpful to talk to other men with prostate cancer at a local support group or through an internet chat room.

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If you have to reduce or stop work because of your prostate cancer, you may find it hard to cope financially. If you have prostate cancer or are caring for someone who does, you may be entitled to financial support:

  • if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
  • if you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
  • if you are caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or if you have a low household income

Find out early what help is available to you. Speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving them free prescriptions for all medicine, including medicine for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for 5 years, and you can apply for it through your GP or cancer specialist.

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