By Pierre Röscher

The single most inspiring moment of my life as a physiotherapist happened in 2015. I was there when world renowned  Australian prostate cancer specialist physiotherapist Dr. Jo Milios was presenting her PhD research at the World Physiotherapy Congress in Cape Town. Jo had also been presenting the first men’s health course in Africa along with her friend and colleague Gerard Green. It started a chain of events towards the launch of my prostate cancer research study.

I had lost a grandfather in 2009 due to complications from prostate cancer. The year after Jo’s electrifying speech, I had set myself a goal to pursue a PhD researching prostate cancer in the South African setting.

Plucking up courage to approach world leader in pelvic floor physiotherapy

It took me about six months to pluck up the courage to contact Jo by email. I explained what I was planning on doing. And I gave Jo a list of barriers that I would face. I knew them well from my master’s degree experience. In short, financial assistance for research in South Africa doesn’t exist, so my PhD would be self-funded. After a few emails, Jo had come up with a suggestion that suited my parameters perfectly. Jo  had highlighted a gap in the current literature and suggested that I looked into it.

This missing bit of knowledge is now known as the Neglected Sexual Side Effects after prostate cancer. They are the lesser known sexual side effects that would not routinely be picked up, discussed or managed in clinical practice.

As you will have witnessed in the Recovering Man blog, these side effects are well known to prostate cancer survivors.

But few professionals in clinical practice knew much about them. Jo had noticed these side effects in the patients under her care. So we were sure that we would found something similar amongst South African patients if we asked the right questions. Hence the invitation for South African prostate cancer survivors to take my survey.

My PhD: The neglected sexual side effects of prostate cancer

After a year of planning I started my PhD in Clinical Medicine (Urology). My brilliant supervisor and research mentor is Professor Jacky van Wyk. My research initially focused on systematically reviewing the literature on the Neglected Sexual Side Effects.

After that, we brought together a group of 30 medical professionals – Urologists, Oncologists, Medical Sexologists, Psychologists and Physiotherapists. The group developed a screening tool that would enable medical professionals to pick up the evidence of a Neglected Sexual Side Effects. Three academic papers have already come out of this. Finally, my research has brought me to this point where I am ready to capture information from South African men who have had Prostate Cancer Treatment.

This study is unique, and the first of its kind. It aims to identify the evidence of Neglected Sexual Side Effects of prostate cancer. More importantly it explores how bothersome these are to men and their partners. I look forward to sharing the results of this study in an academic paper, so that the way that prostate cancer survivors are clinically managed can be improved for the better.