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Problems after surgery

Find out about the possible complications after your surgery for prostate cancer.

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. Around half of all people who have surgery have a problem or complication. Many problems are minor but some can be life threatening.

Treating them as soon as possible is important.


You will have antibiotics to reduce the risk of developing an infection after surgery. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms of an infection. They include:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • shivering
  • feeling hot and cold
  • feeling sick
  • swelling or redness around your wound

Chest and breathing problems

Chest infections, including pneumonia, can be serious. Treatment is antibiotics.

You can lower your risk by:

  • stopping smoking before your operation
  • getting up and moving as soon as possible after your operation
  • doing the breathing exercises your physiotherapist teaches you

Erection problems

Some men can’t have an erection (impotence) after a radical prostatectomy. If your surgeon had to remove nerves during surgery, you are likely to have erection problems.  

Around 6 out of 10 men (60%) will be able to have an erection if the surgeon is able to spare the nerves during surgery. This can take up to 18 months and you may need a drug like sildenafil (Viagra) to help you get an erection.

Impotence is more likely to happen if you are older. Nerve sparing surgery and robotic surgery reduce the risk for some men. Speak to your doctor before you have surgery to get an idea of your risk of problems afterwards.   

There are medicines that can help with erection problems after surgery. Your doctor or specialist nurse can also refer you to a clinic for people who have sexual problems after treatment. You can store sperm before your operation if you would like to have children in future. 

Leakage of urine

Problems with controlling the flow of urine (incontinence) can happen after a radical prostatectomy. These problems can take up to a year to get better. 

Around 2 out of 100 men (2%) have major problems with incontinence after one year of their surgery. Around 9 out of 10 (90%) of men have no problems or wear a small pad. The rest may wear a pad or two a day. Ask your surgeon about the outcomes at the hospital where you get your treatment.

Your doctor can refer you to a special clinic if leakage becomes a problem. They will teach you muscle exercises to control your bladder. Medicines can also help to relieve this symptom.

Weakness and lacking strength

Feeling tired and weak

Most people feel weak and lack strength for some time afterwards. How long this lasts varies.

Tell your doctor or nurse if the weakness continues for more than a few weeks. They can suggest things to help, such as physiotherapy.

Last reviewed: 
06 Jul 2016
  • Radical prostatectomy for localised prostate cancer
    UpToDate, June 2016.

  • Long-term quality-of-life outcomes after radical prostatectomy or watchful waiting: the Scandinavian Prostate Cancer Group-4 randomised trial. E Johansson, and others.The Lancet Oncology.12.9 (2011): 891-899.

  • Sexual dysfunction following radical prostatectomy..C.R Benson, and others.Journal of Andrology. 33.6 (2012): 1143-1154.

  • Quality of life and satisfaction with outcome among prostate-cancer survivors. M. Sanda and others. New England Journal of Medicine. 2008;358(12):1250.

  • EAU Guidelines on prostate cancer. 2015
    N. Mottet and others

  • Prostate cancer
    British Medical Journal (BMJ) Best Practice Online. June 2016.

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