He had to wear diapers after prostate surgery

He thought going for prostate surgery would end his worries.

But the businessman, who wanted to be known as Mr Tan, 57, realised he had to wear adult diapers to deal with his urinary incontinence after that.

Urinary incontinence, alongside erectile dysfunction, is a common side effect that comes after prostate surgery.

"It felt awkward at first," said Mr Tan, adding that he struggled with self-esteem issues.

Sharing his experience on condition of anonymity, the director of a wholesale and trading business said he was diagnosed this year.

But hints of prostate cancer started two years ago when his medical report revealed high prostate-specific antigen levels - an indication of the cancer. But his biopsy result came back positive only this year.

Said Mr Tan: "When I was told I had cancer, naturally I was upset with myself, because a year ago (the biopsy result) was negative. Maybe I could have prevented it by changing my lifestyle, or maybe it was just not detected a year earlier. I'll never know now."

In May, he went for a robotic prostatectomy at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and used a catheter for 10 days before switching to adult diapers immediately to manage his incontinence.

"Right after the catheter was removed, I started to leak. I didn't have a choice but to use diapers. I am not sure if I have other choices even if I'm reluctant to wear diapers, since using the catheter is not practical when moving around."

Mr Tan added that in the first month of dealing with his urinary incontinence, he used about five to six diapers per day.

"I couldn't carry heavy things when I went shopping, except for some things that weigh less than 4kg. I tried carrying some heavy items in the office and at home, and I leaked."

He also avoided tight-fitting pants and shorts, and has started brisk walking in place of jogging.

Over the months, Mr Tan's incontinence gradually improved. After two months of wearing adult diapers, he switched to sanitary pads.

Now he uses a pad only when he is out and about, in case of leaks.

He also does pelvic exercises daily to strengthen the pelvic muscle, which helps with urinary incontinence.

Penile rehabilitation

With his urinary incontinence under control, Mr Tan is now looking at penile rehabilitation - something he never knew about until his urologist mentioned it.

Ranging from oral medication like Viagra to injections and devices, it helps men restore their erectile function after prostate surgery.

Mr Tan conceded that he initially felt apologetic towards his wife after his diagnosis as he realised the possible side effect of erectile dysfunction after the operation.

Having an understanding wife helped in his prostate cancer journey.

"During the journey, both of us openly discussed the effects (of prostate surgery) that will change our lives and lifestyle. (My wife) is very supportive and it helps in managing my condition.

"My doctor managed to save one side of the nerves (around the prostate) during the surgery so erectile dysfunction was not an issue. The use of Viagra helps too," he said.

The third most common cancer in S'pore men

Prostate cancer, which typically hits men above 50 years old, is the third most common cancer that strikes Singaporean men, after colorectal cancer and lung cancer.

Yet in the last five years, one in two men who had a prostatectomy (a major surgery to remove all or part of the prostate gland) do not go for penile rehabilitation, according to data revealed at a press conference yesterday.

Penile rehabilitation helps those who suffer from erectile dysfunction, a common side effect of prostate surgery. Oral medication like Viagra is usually the first line of treatment, followed by injections and devices which can be used concurrently with oral medication.


It will be one of the topics covered in a forum on Nov 1, which marks the start of the prostate awareness month.

Jointly organised by the Singapore Urological Association (SUA), the Society for Men's Health, and the Singapore Cancer Society, the series of talks will also cover topics relating to prostate cancer and its post-surgery side effects.

SUA president Dr Tan Yeh Hong said: "We want to highlight to the public that even after treatment, there are some therapies. If necessary, they may even consider surgery (for penile prostheses)."

"People say that the Prime Minister and Emeritus Senior Minister can still run in the elections after surgery... This brings up an important point that prostate cancer is not the end of your life. You can still carry on with your life after treatment," he added.

Prostate Awareness Month public forum
Nov 1, 9am to 12.45pm for Mandarin session and 1pm to 4.45pm for English session
Where: Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre

On Nov 21, there will be sessions in English and Mandarin at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, National Cancer Centre, National University Hospital and National University Cancer Institute.

On Nov 28, there will be sessions in English at Ng Teng Fong Hospital, Changi General Hospital and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

How much: Admission is free. Register by calling 6653 7080 or text 9070 0763 with the forum code, name and number of people attending. For more details, go to www.myprostate.com.sg.

This article was first published on October 13, 2015.
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