This guide will help you prepare for your prostate surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), and help you understand what to expect after your surgery. We suggest you read through it at least once before your surgery, then use it as a reference in the days leading up to your surgery so that you can do all you can to prepare. Bring it with you each time you come to MSK, including the day of your surgery, so that you and your healthcare team can refer to it as you get ready to leave the hospital.
The prostate gland is a small, firm gland about the size of a walnut. It lies next to the rectum, directly below the bladder. The prostate makes and secretes semen.
Seminal vesicles are small glands near the prostate that produce the fluid in semen.
Lymph nodes are small oval or round structures found throughout the body. They make and store cells that fight infection.
During your radical prostatectomy, your entire prostate gland will be removed. Cancer cells could be scattered throughout your prostate, so removing it makes it most likely that cancer cells are not left behind. Your seminal vesicles will also be removed because prostate cancer may spread there. The amount of tissue around your prostate that will be removed depends on where the cancer is and whether it has spread beyond your prostate.
If the cancer spreads beyond your prostate, one of the first places it spreads to is usually the pelvic lymph nodes. This is why the lymph nodes are usually removed during prostate surgery. You have many lymph nodes, so your body will not miss the few that might be removed during the surgery.
Radical prostatectomy can be done using different techniques. Your surgeon will talk with you about which options are right for you.
An open prostatectomy is done through a 3-inch incision (surgical cut) that goes from the pubic bone towards the belly button (see Figure 1). The pelvic lymph nodes are usually removed first, followed by the prostate gland, and then the structures next to it.
Figure 1. Open prostatectomy incisions
Laparoscopic or Robotic-Assisted Prostatectomy
During a laparoscopic or robotic-assisted prostatectomy, several small incisions will be made in the belly (see Figure 2). An instrument called a laparoscope is inserted into one of the incisions. Surgical instruments will be inserted into the other incisions to remove the prostate. Some surgeons at MSK are specially trained to use a robotic device to assist with this procedure.
Figure 2. Laparoscopic or robotic-assisted prostatectomy incisions
Preparing for Your Surgery
You and your healthcare team will work together to prepare for your surgery.
Help us keep you safe during your surgery by telling us if any of the following statements apply to you, even if you aren’t sure.
- I take a blood thinner. Some examples are heparin, warfarin (Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®), and tinzaparin (Innohep®). There are others, so be sure your doctor knows all the medications you’re taking.
- I take prescription medications.
- I take any over-the-counter medications, herbs, vitamins, minerals, or natural or home remedies.
- I have a pacemaker, automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD), or other heart device.
- I have sleep apnea.
- I have had a problem with anesthesia in the past.
- I have allergies, including latex.
- I am not willing to receive a blood transfusion.
- I drink alcohol.
- I smoke.
- I use recreational drugs.
About Drinking Alcohol
The amount of alcohol you drink can affect you during and after your surgery. It is important that you talk with your healthcare providers about your alcohol intake so that we can plan your care.
- Stopping alcohol suddenly can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you are at risk for these complications, we can prescribe medication to help prevent them.
- If you use alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for other complications during and after surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, greater dependence on nursing care, and longer hospital stay.
Here are things you can do to prevent problems before your surgery:
- Be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you drink.
- Try to stop drinking alcohol once your surgery is planned. If you develop a headache, nausea, increased anxiety, or cannot sleep after you stop drinking, tell your doctor right away. These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.
- Tell your healthcare provider if you cannot stop drinking.
- Ask us any questions you have about drinking and surgery. As always, all of your treatment information will be kept confidential.
People who smoke can have breathing problems when they have surgery. Stopping even for a few days before surgery can help. If you want to quit, call our Tobacco Treatment Program at 212-610-0507. You can also ask your nurse about the program.
About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This means that the airway becomes completely blocked during sleep, so no air can get through. OSA can cause serious problems when you have surgery. Please tell us if you have sleep apnea or if you think you might have it. If you use a breathing machine (CPAP) for sleep apnea, bring it with you the day of your surgery.
Within 30 Days of Your Surgery
Presurgical Testing (PST)
Before your surgery, you will have an appointment for presurgical testing (PST). The date, time, and location of your PST appointment will be printed on the appointment reminder from your surgeon’s office.
You can eat and take your usual medications the day of your PST appointment. During your appointment, you will meet with a nurse practitioner who works closely with anesthesiology staff (doctors and specialized nurses who will be giving you medication to put you to sleep during your surgery). He or she will review your medical and surgical history with you. You will have tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and any other tests necessary to plan your care. Your nurse practitioner may also recommend you see other healthcare providers.
Your nurse practitioner will talk with you about which medications you should take the morning of your surgery. It is very helpful if you bring the following with you to your PST appointment:
- A list of all the medications you are taking
- Results of any tests done outside of MSK, such as a cardiac stress test, echocardiogram, or carotid doppler study
- The name(s) and telephone number(s) of your doctor(s)
Health Care Proxy
If you haven’t already completed a Health Care Proxy form, it’s a good idea to complete one now. A health care proxy is a legal document that identifies the person who will speak for you if you are unable to communicate for yourself. The person you identify is called your health care agent. If you are interested in completing a Health Care Proxy form, talk with your nurse. If you have completed one already, or if you have any other advance directive, bring it with you to your next appointment.
You will no longer ejaculate after this procedure. If your plans include fathering a child, you should consider sperm banking before your surgery. Please ask your nurse to tell you more about this process, or ask for the booklet Cancer and Fertility: Information for Men.
Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program
Most men will have difficulty achieving an erection immediately after surgery. Consider making an appointment with an expert to discuss the effects of this surgery on your sexual health by calling 646-888-6024.
10 Days Before Your Surgery
Stop Taking Certain Medications
Stop taking vitamin E, aspirin, and medications that contain aspirin 10 days before your surgery. These medications can cause bleeding. If you take aspirin because you’ve had a problem with your heart, talk with your doctor about whether it’s safe to stop. For more information, please read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
Make Travel Arrangements
If you are going home the day after your surgery, you must have someone who is 18 years or older to take you home. Please call one of the agencies below if you don’t have someone who can do this. They will help find someone to take you home.
In New York:
Partners in Care 888-735-8913
Prime Care 212-944-0244
In New Jersey:
Caring People 877-227-4649
Do Breathing and Coughing Exercises
Practice taking deep breaths and coughing before your surgery. You will be given an incentive spirometer to help expand your lungs. For more information, please read How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer. If you have any questions, ask your nurse or respiratory therapist.
Do Pelvic Floor Muscle (Kegel) Exercises
These exercises will strengthen the muscles that will be weakened from the surgery. Practice Kegel exercises before your surgery, so that you’ll know how it should feel. For more information, please read Pelvic Floor Muscle (Kegel) Exercises for Men.
Do not perform pelvic floor muscle (Kegel) exercises while you have a
Foley® catheter in place.
- Hibiclens® skin cleanser (Available at your pharmacy without a prescription)
- Saline enema, such as Fleet® (Available at your local pharmacy without a prescription)
7 Days Before Your Surgery
Stop Taking Herbal Remedies
Stop taking herbal remedies and other dietary supplements 7 days before your surgery. If you take a multivitamin, talk with your doctor or nurse about whether you should continue. For more information, please read Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.
2 Days Before Your Surgery
Stop Taking Certain Medications
Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®, Motrin®), or naproxen (e.g., Aleve®). These medications can cause bleeding. For more information, please read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
1 Day Before Your Surgery
Note the Time of Your Surgery
A clerk from the Admitting Office will call you after 2:00 PM the day before your surgery. He or she will tell you what time you should arrive at the hospital for your surgery. If you are scheduled for surgery on a Monday, you will be called on the Friday before. If you do not receive a call by 7:00 PM the evening before your surgery, please call 212-639-5014.
1275 York Avenue between East 67th and East 68th Streets
Presurgical Center (PSC)
B elevator to 6th Floor
Eat a Light Diet
Eat a light diet, such as a small sandwich, eggs, toast, crackers, or soup. Limit the amount of dairy products you eat and drink, and avoid fried foods and foods with a lot of seasoning.
Do Your Bowel Preparation
The night before your surgery use a saline enema, such as Fleet, as instructed on the box.
Shower with Hibiclens
The night before your surgery, shower using the Hibiclens solution. To use Hibiclens open the bottle and pour some solution into your hand or a washcloth. Rub gently over your body from your neck to your waist and rinse. Do not let the solution get into your eyes, ears, mouth, or genital area. Dry with a clean towel after your shower.
Go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.
Morning of Your Surgery
Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes water, hard candy, and gum. If you were instructed to take any medications, take them with a sip of water.
Shower with Hibiclens
Shower using Hibiclens just before you leave for the hospital. Use the Hibiclens the same way you did the night before.
Take Your Medications as Instructed
If your doctor or nurse practitioner instructed you to take certain medications the morning of your surgery, take only those medications with a small sip of water. Depending on what medications you take and the surgery you’re having, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medications.
Do not eat or drink anything the morning of your surgery. This includes water, hard candy, and gum. Take any medication as instructed with a small sip of water.
Things to Remember
- Do not put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, make-up, powder, or perfume.
- Do not wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The equipment used during your surgery can cause burns if it touches metal.
- Leave valuables, such as credit cards, jewelry, and your checkbook, at home.
Before you are taken into the operating room, you will need to remove your hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles, such as a rosary.
If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead.
What to Bring
- A pair of loose-fitting pants (sweat pants are a good choice).
- Brief-style underwear that is 1 to 2 sizes larger than you normally wear.
- Sneakers that lace up. You may have some swelling in your feet, lace up sneakers can accommodate this swelling.
- Only the money you may need for a newspaper, bus or taxi or parking costs.
- A CD player and CDs or an iPod, if you choose, however someone will need to hold it for you when you go into surgery.
- Your incentive spirometer, if you have one.
- If you have a case for your personal items, such as eyeglasses, hearing aid(s), dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles such as a rosary, bring it with you.
- Your Health Care Proxy form, if you have completed one.
- Your breathing machine for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP), if you have one.
- This guide. Your healthcare team will use this guide to teach you how to care for yourself after your surgery.
Parking When You Arrive
Parking at MSK is available in the garage on East 66th Street between York and First Avenues. To reach the garage, turn onto East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is located about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue, on the right-hand (north) side of the street. There is a pedestrian tunnel that you can walk through that connects the garage to the hospital. If you have questions about prices, call 212-639-2338.
There are also other garages located on East 69th Street between First and Second Avenues, East 67th Street between York and First Avenues, and East 65th Street between First and Second Avenues.
Once You’re in the Hospital
When you enter the hospital, take the M elevator to the 6th floor. A member of the Presurgical Center staff will check you in.
You will be asked to state and spell your name and birth date many times. This is for your safety. Patients with the same or similar names may be having surgery on the same day.
Tell Your Nurse about Medications You’ve Taken
A nurse will meet with you before your surgery. Tell him or her the dose of any medication you took after midnight and the time you took them.
Get Dressed for Your Surgery
You will be given a hospital gown, robe, and non skid socks.
Meet With Your Anesthesiologist
He or she will:
- Review your medical history with you.
- Talk with you about your comfort and safety during your surgery.
- Talk with you about the kind of anesthesia you will receive.
- Answer any questions you may have about your anesthesia.
Prepare for Surgery
Once your nurse has seen you, 1 or 2 visitors can keep you company as you wait for your surgery to begin. When it is time for your surgery, your visitor(s) will be shown to the waiting area. Your visitors should read Information for Family and Friends for the Day of Surgery.
You will walk into the operating room or you can be taken in on a stretcher. A member of the operating room team will help you onto the operating bed. Compression boots will be placed on your lower legs. These gently inflate and deflate to help circulation in your legs.
Your anesthesiologist will place an intravenous (IV) line into a vein, usually in your arm or hand. The IV line will be used to give you fluids and anesthesia (medication to make you sleep) during your surgery.
What to Expect
When you wake up after your surgery, you will be in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). Once your anesthesia has worn off, you will be taken to your hospital room. There, your nurse will tell you what you can do to recover from your surgery. Below are 2 examples of ways you can help yourself recover safely.
- It is important to walk around after surgery. Walking every 2 hours is a good goal. This will help prevent blood clots in your legs. The following section will cover common questions patients ask after prostate surgery and exercises to practice. Ask your doctor or nurse if you have additional questions or to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Use your incentive spirometer. This will help your lungs expand, which prevents pneumonia. When using your incentive spirometer or other breathing exercises, it may help to splint your incision. To do this, hold a pillow or blanket against the incision sites. This will reduce movement in your muscles. For more information, please read How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer.
Will I have pain?
Typical pain after surgery
- Pain in your abdomen in the area of your incisions
- Gas pains
- Pressure in your rectum
- Pain in another part of your body, such as your shoulders
Your doctor and nurse will ask you about your pain often. You will be given medication to treat your pain as needed. If your pain is not relieved, please tell your doctor or nurse.
Many men have bladder spasms after surgery. These can feel like sudden and intense cramping pains in your lower abdomen and penis. You may also feel an urgent need to urinate. These spasms usually get better with time. There may also be discoloration of your abdomen, penis, and scrotum. This is due to bruising and will go away within 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery.
How can I prevent constipation?
Take a stool softener such as docusate sodium (Colace®) 3 times a day to avoid constipation. Continue taking the stool softener until you are no longer taking pain medications. Drink plenty of fluids. If you have not moved your bowels within 2 days after going home, use a gentle laxative. We recommend 2 tablespoons of milk of magnesia at bedtime. Do not use an enema or a suppository for at least 6 weeks after your surgery. Avoid foods that can cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, onions, cabbage, and cauliflower. For more information, ask your doctor or nurse for the booklet Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment.
You might feel fullness or tenderness in your rectum, as if you need to have a bowel movement. The prostate gland lies just above the rectum, so this feeling is common. It will usually go away with time.
How can I reduce the swelling?
You may develop swelling and bruising of your scrotum and penis. It will get better in about 1 to 2 weeks. You can help reduce the swelling by raising your scrotum on a rolled towel while you are sitting or lying down. It also helps to wear briefs instead of boxer shorts.
How do I care for my incisions?
Clean your incision(s) with soap and water. If you have any bandages, remove them when you shower and let the shower water run over your incision(s). Usually the incision(s) are dry and don’t require a bandage. If you have Steri-Strips™ (adhesive tape) on your incisions, you can remove them 5 to 7 days after your surgery. You can shower any time once you are home, but you must wait until your urinary (Foley) catheter is removed before taking a bath. Any bruising you have around your incision(s) should go away in 1 to 2 weeks.
Will I have any drains when I go home?
When you leave the hospital, you will still have the urinary (Foley) catheter (see Figure 3). Your nurse will teach you how to care for it and will give you supplies to take home. The catheter is usually removed 7 to 10 days after surgery during your first visit to MSK after your surgery. Taking care of your catheter is a big part of taking care of yourself after surgery. Be sure to read Caring for Your Urinary (Foley) Catheter.
It is possible that you will leave the hospital with a Jackson-Pratt® drain still in place. This is a soft catheter that is sometimes placed at the end of surgery to drain extra fluid (see Figure 4). The drain is usually removed 1 day after surgery, but it may be left in longer. If you will go home with the drain still in, your nurse will teach you how to care for it and ask you to read Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt Drainage System.
Figure 3. Urinary (Foley) catheter
Figure 4. Jackson-Pratt drain
Typical reasons for urinary leakage
- Your bladder is full
- You're tired
- You drink alcohol or drinks that contain caffeine
Your chance of regaining urinary control depends on
- Your age
- Whether you have a narrowing where your bladder is swen to the urethra
Will I have trouble controlling my urine?
The muscles that hold urine in your bladder will be weak after your prostate is removed. This is why you may have trouble controlling your urine. It may take several months to regain full control.
Once your catheter is removed, you can do exercises to strengthen the muscles. These are the pelvic floor muscle (Kegel) exercises you practiced before your surgery.
Most men have urine leakage after the catheter is removed. It will slowly decrease over time and almost always stops. You may have some leakage with straining, coughing, or lifting things. This is called stress incontinence.
At first, you may notice that your bladder control is better at night. This is because there is less pressure on your bladder when you are lying down. For the first few months after your surgery, you may feel that you have to urinate often. Your bladder will take time to expand after it has been kept empty by the catheter.
For most people, urinary control will not be a problem. Your muscle strength will continue to improve for up to 12 months after surgery. If after 12 months you are having problems with controlling your urine, talk with your surgeon. Surgical procedures such as a urethral sling or an artificial urinary sphincter may help. For additional information, refer to the National Association for Continence website www.NAFC.org.
When can I go back to work?
You will probably be able to return to work about 2 to 4 weeks after your surgery. You may be comfortable with desk or office work once your catheter is taken out. If your work requires heavy physical activity, you may need a longer time to recover. Talk with your surgeon about when it will be safe to return to work.
Do I need to change my diet?
When you return home, you may resume your normal diet. Your red blood cells (blood count) may be low for a short time after your surgery. Eat red meat, spinach, and other foods rich in iron for the first month or 2. For more information, ask your nurse for the resource Iron in Your Diet.
Call your doctor immediately if:
When will I get my pathology results?
Your surgeon will receive your results 10 to 14 days after your surgery. If you do not receive a phone call after 14 days, call your surgeon’s office.
When will my urinary catheter be removed?
The catheter is usually removed 7 to 10 days after your surgery, during your first follow-up visit. Bring adult urinary pads with you the day the catheter is removed to protect your clothing from any urine leakage. This will also keep your skin dry so that you don’t develop a rash.
Call your doctor immediately if you have severe pain in your lower abdomen when you are urinating or if you are unable to urinate. The catheter may need to be put back in.
Are there special instructions to follow once my catheter is removed?
For 2 days after the catheter is removed, the section where the bladder and urethra meet will still be fragile. Don’t push or put effort into urinating; let your urine pass on its own. Don’t strain to have a bowel movement.
Decrease your daily liquid intake to what you normally drink. You should be drinking 4 to 6 (8-ounce) glasses of liquid every day.
Limit the amount of liquids you drink after 7:00 PM, and empty your bladder before you go to bed. This might prevent your having to get up at night.
Limit how much alcohol and caffeinated liquids you drink if you’re experiencing a lot of urine leakage.
A few weeks after your surgery, you might notice 1 or 2 episodes of blood in your urine. This is usually because the scab on your internal incision is coming off. If this happens, try drinking extra liquids. When you don’t see any more blood in your urine, you can decrease your liquids again to what you would normally drink.
Speak with your healthcare provider before you resume your Kegel exercises.
Do not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) after your surgery. Speak with your healthcare provider before lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.
Do not ride on a bicycle or motorcycle for 3 months after your surgery.
Do not have a colonoscopy for 3 months after your surgery.
You may resume driving when your catheter is removed as long as you are not taking any pain medication.
If you see blood or blood clots in your urine for more than 1 day, call your surgeon.
When can I resume sexual activity?
You may resume sexual activity after your urinary catheter is removed.
Will I be able to achieve an erection?
It will take time (weeks to months) for your erectile function to recover. In the initial weeks after having the catheter removed most men are not able to achieve erections hard enough for sex, even with the use of medications like Viagra®. Not every man will be able to achieve an erection, even if he has had a nerve preserving procedure. Your healthcare team will talk with you about your options to try to improve your likelihood of recovery of erections.
What are my options for treating erectile dysfunction?
Your doctor or nurse will tell you about your options to help you achieve an erection. Once the catheter is removed, we typically recommend using medication for erectile dysfunction on a daily basis. This is to promote blood flow to your penis in order to keep these tissues healthy. Many insurance companies do not routinely cover Viagra prescriptions. Check with your insurance provider before surgery to see what your policy covers. Occasionally an appeal has to be made. Work with your doctor and nurse to get this process started even before your surgery is completed.
When is it safe to start taking medication for erectile function?
You can start taking medication to achieve an erection the night your urinary catheter has been removed.
Take the medication your doctor prescribed every night:
- Sildenafil (Viagra) 25 mg (If you were given 100 mg pills, you can break 1 into 4 pieces using a pill splitter. These pieces will be 25 mg each.)
- Vardenafil (Levitra®) 10 mg (If you were given 20 mg pills, you can break 1 into 2 pieces using a pill splitter. These pieces will be 10 mg each.)
- If your doctor prescribed tadalafil (Cialis®) 20 mg, take it every other day.
Challenge instructions for patients taking sildenafil or vardenafil:
Over the next 4 to 6 weeks, you should try to take a full dose (100 mg) of sildenafil (Viagra) or (20 mg) of vardenafil (Levitra) once a week on an empty stomach. Try this on 3 separate occasions before you return to see your doctor.
If you are taking tadalafil (Cialis), you don’t need to change your dose because 20 mg is the maximum dose.
Try to become sexually aroused through contact with your partner or self-stimulation.
Write down your response so you remember to tell your doctor during your follow-up visit. If you are not responding to this regimen, your doctor may ask you to see the experts in our Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program.
Don’t take your regular nightly dose of sildenafil (Viagra) 25 mg dose or vardenafil (Levitra) 10 mg on the night you attempt the challenge.
What if the pills aren’t working?
Most men do not achieve erections adequate enough for sex right away. Patience is the key; most men who have a nerve-sparing procedure will eventually achieve erections adequate for intercourse with the pills.
If the pills aren’t working there are other things you can do to achieve an erection. If you are interested in learning about other treatment options for erectile dysfunction, make an appointment with our Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program.
When will I need to do my first PSA test?
You will need to have a PSA test 6 to 12 weeks after your surgery. If the cancer has been completely removed, the PSA level should not be detectable.
What should I talk to my doctor about?
- Your final pathology report
- Your PSA results
- Any problems with your recovery
- Any further treatment that may be needed
What kind of follow-up care will I need?
After your initial treatment for prostate cancer, you should continue to have PSA testing and regular checkups for the rest of your life. Talk with your healthcare provider about how often you should have your PSA checked. He or she may order other tests if you develop new symptoms, such as difficulty urinating or bone pain that doesn’t go away.
Can I continue at MSK for my follow-up care?
Yes. We offer comprehensive follow-up care for men who were treated here for prostate cancer in our Survivorship Program. Your doctor will help you decide when you are ready for this step. The program will help support you as you recover from the physical and emotional effects of prostate cancer, as well as watch for any signs of the cancer coming back. A nurse practitioner, who will work closely with your doctor, will be responsible for your care. The nurse practitioner is a member of the prostate cancer treatment team at MSK and an expert in the care of cancer survivors. He or she will:
- Look for signs of the cancer returning.
- Manage any effects of treatment, such as pain and fatigue.
- Recommend screening tests for other cancers.
- Provide counseling about living a healthy lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, and quitting smoking.
During visits with your nurse practitioner, he or she will:
- Talk with you about your medical history.
- Perform a physical exam.
- Order tests, such as x-rays, scans, and blood tests.
- Make referrals to other healthcare providers, if needed.
- Prescribe medication, if needed.
If you would like more information about our Survivorship program, talk with your doctor or nurse or visit our Survivorship Center online at www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/survivorship.