These insights come from Dr. Simon Rosser and Dr. Bill West, two married gay medical professionals who have both survived prostate cancer. They co-authored several chapters in a recently released book entitled Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer (from Diagnosis to Recovery), one of the only books that specifically tackles the disease’s effect on queer men.
Here are 5 things every gay and bi man should know about prostate cancer:
1. Prostate cancer is common and often asymptomatic.
While Rosser and West say that one in seven gay men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, they also say it usually doesn’t have any tell-tale symptoms.
“Which is why it needs to be detected through a blood test (the Prostate Specific Antigen or PSA test),” they write, “and by a doctor feeling for any abnormalities during a digital rectal (finger up the butt) exam.”
2. No anal sex and drug use don’t increase your risk of prostate cancer.
Despite what you might’ve heard, “Being gay versus straight, lots of sex or no sex, [the] amount and rigor of receptive anal sex, smoking, drug and alcohol use, a history of sexually transmitted diseases and long-distance cycling have not been associated with greater risk or worse outcomes” for prostate cancer, according to Rosser and West.
Rather, they say that Black men, bisexual men, HIV-positive men and men with a history of prostate cancer in their families are at greatest risk.
3. Medical treatments for prostate cancer can affect your sex life.
“Different prostate cancer treatments have different effects on our sexual functioning,” Rosser and West write.
Patients who receive radiation therapy on their bowels can find it painful to bottom afterwards. Men who have their prostates removed by surgery can have difficulty sustaining erections.
“Treatment can also effect penis size, the ability to ejaculate, experience of orgasm, pleasure in receptive sex and urinary problems during sex or at orgasm,” they say, so they stress the importance of discussing gay sex with your specialist to help decide which treatment is best for you.
4. The survival rate for prostate cancer is really high.
The survival rate for prostate cancer is actually over 99%. Rosser and West add, “Most prostate cancer is slow growing, so in many cases you can go at your own pace [as far as treatment goes].”
But, as with all cancers, early detection is the key to successful treatment and survival. So it’s a good idea to start talking with your doctor about it, especially once you enter your 40s and 50s.
5. You don’t have to go through the diagnosis and treatment process alone.
Rosser and West have both been diagnosed with prostate cancer, so they understand how scary and isolating it can feel. After all, it’s a disease that can affect your sexual functioning, making you feel less attractive or confident.
They suggest bringing your boyfriend(s) or best friend to any prostate cancer consultations you feel nervous about.
They also add that it’s good, when choosing a specialist, to mention that you’d like to discuss sexual functioning and health with them. If the specialist seems hesitant or unsure, see if you can go find another specialist who’s more capable of such discussions.