Side effects of treatment for prostate cancer can be debilitating – and often worse than the symptoms of the cancer itself. They can affect your overall wellbeing – they change how you feel, how you live your day-to-day life, and they impact on your relationships. It is easy to feel down and wonder whether or not you made the right decision about treatment. Here are some ways of managing side effects.

Make adjustments to your daily life

An important way of coping with side effects is to adjust your daily life so that they don’t overwhelm you. For example, organise your work demands and obligations so you have time to recover from treatments and side effects. If you can’t cut back your work hours, maybe you could rearrange things so that you can rest during the periods of the day when you feel least well. Don’t expect to perform at the same level as before for a while.

Look after yourself

Improve your diet, exercise regularly and learn other ways of looking after your health and wellbeing.

Talk to a health professional

Health professionals can help you prepare for side effects and suggest ways of treating them.

Look after your mental health

Living with some side effects can affect your mood and mental health. Medications can help. Talk to a mental health professional (e.g. a qualified counsellor, psychologist, or social worker) to find ways of living with the mood changes caused by side effects.

Share how you feel with someone you trust

Sharing your fears, concerns and stress with your partner or someone you trust (e.g. a family member or close friend) can help you manage side effects. Letting them know how you feel allows them to help you to take care of your health, feelings and wellbeing. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a good listener
  • Choose a good time to share how you feel
  • Be truthful about your feelings.

Be upfront with your partner

If you have a partner, it is important to talk about the side effects that could affect your sex life. It can be difficult to talk about these matters if you’re not used to it. But openly discussing with your partner your fears, concerns, and how things have changed can improve your sexual experiences. Not talking about these side effects can cause frustration and misunderstanding because you and your partner are ‘second guessing’ each other. It is a couple’s time.

Support groups

Sometimes being able to talk with other people who have been through similar experiences can be useful. In a support group, people can talk freely about many things including what they have experienced. Please see ‘Where can I go to get support and information’ for contact details.

Future partners

If you are single, it is understandable that you might find it hard to talk to a potential partner about body image issues and erectile difficulties. Sometimes it helps to practise what you want to say and how you want say it. Talking about the changes caused by side effects can help potential partners understand and can help you both work out a way to deal with changes. When to bring up these issues depends on you. Everyone is different so there isn’t a ‘right’ time – just the ‘right’ time for you.

Complementary medicine

Some men with prostate cancer might use complementary medicine alongside conventional prostate cancer treatments to help them cope with the physical and emotional symptoms of cancer or the side effects of treatments. Make sure you use safe and proven therapies and not therapies that are unproven, possibly harmful and promoted as alternatives or substitutes for conventional medicine. Complementary medicines that can improve your quality of life include vitamins, minerals and special diets, meditation, yoga, acupuncture and massage. It is important to speak with your healthcare team if you are thinking of using complementary medicine to make sure they are safe and won’t interfere with any of your other treatments.

A more detailed look at the impact of living with prostate cancer and side effects is in another booklet in this series: Wellbeing.