Now, a new study from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center examines the evidence for potency preservation. The authors, who include John Mulhall, the sexual medicine specialist, demonstrate that the expected loss of erectile function is never compensated for by better recovery in younger men and the age-related decline in erectile function over the years while waiting on active surveillance.
They used a standard questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function 6 (IIEF6). It is sometimes called the Sexual Health Inventory for men (SHIM). There are six questions, and the best score (excellent erectile function) is 30. The questions are:
1. Over the last month, how often were you able to get an erection during sexual activity?
2. Over the last month, when you had erections with sexual stimulation, how often were your erections hard enough for penetration?
3. Over the last month, when you attempted intercourse, how often were you able to penetrate your partner?
4. Over the last month, during sexual intercourse, how often were you able to maintain your erection after you had penetrated your partner?
5. Over the last month, during sexual intercourse, how difficult was it to maintain your erection to completion of intercourse?
15. Over the last month, how do you rate your confidence that you can get and keep your erection?
All men filled out the questionnaire before surgery and periodically for two years. They excluded high risk patients who wouldn't be eligible for active surveillance, and any men who did not have bilateral nerve-sparing surgery. Men who had hormone therapy or salvage radiation were also excluded. There were 1,103 men in their cohort of men treated with RP at MSKCC between 2009-2013. Needless to say, MSKCC has some of the best, most experienced surgeons in the world.
They first looked at the baseline scores by age to get an understanding of how erectile function declines with age. This defines the expected erectile function if there were no surgery. They also looked at actual scores after surgery for each age. The difference between actual and expected shows the true effect of surgery on erectile function, with compensation for age-related decline and for the time delay caused by active surveillance.
They found that:
- Each year increase in age reduced the IIEF6 score by -0.27
- Erectile function recovery after RP declined by -0.16 for each year older at the age of treatment
While younger men started with a higher erectile function score, and their recovery after RP was better, it was never good enough to be better than the erectile function of an older man who didn't have surgery. At all time points, they would have been better off if they had delayed treatment and stayed on active surveillance. There was no "window of opportunity" where younger age recovery exceeded what would be expected to happen if they waited.
The authors conclude:
Small differences in erectile function recovery in younger men are offset by a longer period of time living with decreased postoperative function. Better erectile recovery in younger men should not be a factor used to recommend immediate surgery in patients suitable for active surveillance, even if crossover to surgery is predicted within a short period of time.
I hope patients whose urologists spout the myth that "early surgery will lead to better long-term erectile function than delaying until he is older" will email this important study to them and ask for comment.