Men with poor lifestyle habits experience more debilitating and often permanent side-effects of prostate cancer treatment than those with healthier lifestyles, according to new research presented today at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

The study found that men with prostate cancer who smoked, were inactive, or overweight during and after radiotherapy, suffered far more from side-effects such as rectal bleeding, erectile dysfunction and incontinence than men who led healthier lifestyles.

The study, carried out at The Primrose Oncology Research Unit and funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, is the first in the world to show the importance of physical activity during and after radiotherapy.

As well as affecting their health, effects of radiotherapy like impotence and incontinence, can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on men’s sex lives and relationships. It’s clear that good lifestyle habits can dramatically reduce side-effects of radiotherapy so I’d urge men with prostate cancer to keep active, not smoke and eat well.

Professor Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, leading oncologist and co-author of the research

The study found men with prostate cancer who walked briskly for more than two hours a week, played sport regularly or attended a gym, were twice as likely to have no side-effects and normal erections than sedentary men. Even if they had erectile impairment, they were much more likely to respond to medication.

It’s going to be a big challenge to get men to move more so as well as information booklets the NHS must give prostate cancer patients counselling before treatment, prescribe them physical activity and, if necessary, refer them to smoking cessation clinics and nutritionists.

Professor Jane Maher

This study backs up Macmillan’s recent Move More report that highlights the enormous benefit of physical activity to cancer patients. The report includes research that shows physical activity can reduce prostate cancer patients’ risk of dying from the disease or of it coming back by up to 30%.

If you told me 10 years ago I would be self-catheterising before going to bed and not spraying on the aftershave to encourage a romantic evening, I wouldn’t have believed it – but keeping active has really helped. Whenever I feel fatigue, I get on my bike, go for a walk, go surfing or sailing. Straight away I feel so much better and have such a deep sleep afterwards. A bit of exercise definitely helps ease side-effects.

Mark, 50, a former teacher trainer from Cornwall had radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer two years ago and has experienced a number of long term effects of treatment

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with around 40,000 men diagnosed each year in the UK.