The surgical treatment for prostate cancer is commonly referred to as a radical or total prostatectomy, which is the removal of the entire prostate gland. Since 1990, the radical prostatectomy has been the most common treatment for prostate cancer in the U.S. This operation is done in about 36% of patients with organ-confined (localized) prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates a 90% cure rate nationwide when the disease is confined to the prostate and the entire gland is removed. The potential complications of a radical prostatectomy include the risks of anesthesia, local bleeding, impotence (loss of sexual function) in 30%-70% of patients, and incontinence (loss of control of urination) in 3%-10% of patients.
Great strides have been made in lowering the frequency of the complications of radical prostatectomy. These advances have been accomplished largely through improved anesthesia and surgical techniques. The improved surgical techniques, in turn, stem from a better understanding of the key anatomy and physiology of sexual potency and urinary continence. Specifically, the recent introduction of nerve-sparing techniques for the prostatectomy has helped to reduce the frequency of impotence and incontinence.
If post-treatment impotence does occur, it can be treated by sildenafil (Viagra) tablets, injections of such medications as alprostadil (Caverject) into the penis, various devices to pump up or stiffen the penis, or a penile prosthesis (an artificial penis). Incontinence after treatment often improves with time, special exercises, and medications to improve the control of urination. Occasionally, however, incontinence requires implanting an artificial sphincter around the urethra. The artificial sphincter is made up of muscle or other material and is designed to control the flow of urine through the urethra.
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