Life After Prostate Cancer Treatment: What to Expect

“You’re very likely to be cured and you may be monitored to be assured of that.”

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Completing cancer treatment can bring on an array of emotions. While you may have a sense of relief and excitement, you may experience other not-so-joyous feelings, such as stress or anxiety. For many patients, it can be hard not to worry about cancer growing or coming back.

“In general in prostate cancer, patients who are treated with surgery or radiation, about one out of three will have a risk that the cancer might recur,” says William K. Oh, MD, chief of hematology and medical oncology at Mount Sinai Health System. “That’s a pretty high number, and there’s a lot of anxiety associated with that possibility.”

That’s why it’s important to discuss and develop a survivorship plan after you’ve completed prostate cancer treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, survivorship care plan may include:

  • A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests

  • A list of possible side effects you may experience after your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor

  • And diet, physical activity, and self-care suggestions.

“Survivorship issues are very important for patients with prostate cancer because they live for many years,” says Dr. Oh.

After Prostate Cancer Treatment: Follow-Up Exams and Tests

Patients who were treated for localized prostate cancer (cancer that’s confined to the prostate and has not spread) are often monitored by their doctor with follow-up examinations and tests after treatment. Doctors usually perform a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. (Learn more about how different types of prostate cancer are treated.)

“As long as the PSA remains low and the cancer shows no evidence of progressing, you’re very likely to be cured and you may be monitored to be assured of that,” says Dr. Oh. “Over time those visits become less frequent because by the fifth or 10th year, there’s a greater and greater chance, [if] the numbers remain good, that the patient has been cured.”

After Prostate Cancer Treatment: Side Effects

“One of the things you want to be aware of are the side effects of treatments. Sometimes these treatments may affect quality of life,” says Dr. Oh. 

Some treatment side effects might last a long time or may not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Side effects of treatment may include: 

  • Urinary complications

  • Sexual dysfunction 

  • Sexuality and body issues

  • Bowel issues 

  • And mental health issues, such as anxiety. 

It’s important to discuss any side effects that you may be feeling with your doctor, because there may be something that they can do to help you find relief. 

After Prostate Cancer Treatment: Lifestyle

While more research is needed to determine how or if lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer coming back, staying healthy can help you feel your best, mentally and physically. According to the American Cancer Society, this includes: 

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Getting to and staying at a healthy weight

  • Quitting smoking

  • Eating a diet rich in veggies and low in animal fat

  • And limiting alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day.

If the Prostate Cancer Comes Back

“In that setting, the truth is that we have a lot of treatments that we can use to control the cancer,” says Dr. Oh, “sometimes to keep it under control for many years and sometimes even decades.”