Radical Retropubic Prostatectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

A radical retropubic prostatectomy is surgery to remove the prostate gland and some of the tissue around it. It is done to treat prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate. The doctor did the surgery through a 7 to 10 centimetre cut, called an incision, in your lower belly between the navel and the pubic bone.

Your scrotum may be swollen and bruised. This usually gets better after 1 week. The incision may be sore for 1 to 2 weeks. Your doctor will give you medicine for pain.

You will have a tube (urinary catheter) to drain urine from your bladder for the first 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. You may have bladder cramps, or spasms, while the catheter is in your bladder. Your doctor can give you medicine to help prevent bladder spasms.

You will probably be able to go back to work or your usual activities 3 to 5 weeks after surgery. But it can take longer to fully recover.

After surgery, you will no longer be able to father children. You may have difficulty getting an erection, and you may not be able to control when you urinate. Medicine or other treatments often can help these problems.

You will need to see your doctor regularly. This includes having blood tests to measure your PSA level. PSA is a substance that can suggest whether your cancer has returned. PSA tests are usually done more often for the first several years after your surgery, but less often after that.

Having cancer is scary. You may feel many emotions and need some help coping. It may help to talk with your family, friends, or a therapist about your feelings. You also can do things at home to make yourself feel better while you go through treatment. Call the Canadian Cancer Society (1-888-939-3333) or visit its Web site at www.cancer.ca for more information.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation. At first, avoid hills, and try to stay on flat ground. You can climb stairs, but try to limit how often you do this. When you do climb them, do it slowly, and pause every few steps.
  • Avoid strenuous activities for 6 to 8 weeks, or until your doctor says it is okay. This includes bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise.
  • For 6 to 8 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • You may shower if your doctor says it is okay. Empty the catheter bag before you start. When you shower, keep the catheter taped to your leg. Do not take a bath until your doctor or nurse has removed the catheter.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Avoid riding in a car for more than 1 hour at a time for the first 3 weeks after surgery. If you must ride in a car for a longer distance, stop often to walk and stretch your legs.
  • You will probably need to take 3 to 5 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics when your urinary catheter is removed. Take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Ice and elevation

  • To help with pain and swelling, put ice or a cold pack on your groin for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Other instructions

  • You will have a urinary catheter for 1 to 2 weeks. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to care for it.
  • Be sure the catheter is securely taped to your thigh and attached to the large drainage bag when you are at home. Use the smaller leg bag only when you go out.
  • A little urine leakage around the catheter is normal. You can place an incontinence pad in your underwear to absorb urine leaks.
  • Do not have an enema or use a rectal thermometer for 3 months, or until your doctor says it is okay.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your catheter comes out.
  • You have pain that spreads from your back to your side.
  • Your catheter stops draining urine, or the amount of urine increases a lot.
  • The urine in your catheter bag is cloudy or smells bad.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have trouble urinating after the doctor or nurse takes out your catheter.
  • Your urine is red or brown.
  • Urine leaks around the catheter all the time.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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