What Is Penile Prosthesis, How Does It Work, And What Are Its Advantages/Disadvantages?

James Mohler, M.D., Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Jan. 01, 2009 -- Question: What is penile prosthesis, how does it work, and what are its advantages/disadvantages?

Answer: A penile prosthesis is a surgically implanted device that allows a man to have an erection sufficient for intercourse. Penile prostheses come in two basic types.

First, a penile prosthesis can be a semi-rigid but a malleable rod that results in a permanent erection, but the penis can be deflected downward so that it is concealed in one's normal clothing attire. This type of prosthesis is less often chosen by patients, but is the easier to implant and the safer prosthesis.

The Cadillac of penile prostheses is the inflatable penile prosthesis. The inflatable devices are now very durable, they're made of synthetic materials, and they're usually implanted as a one-piece device. These have just like the malleable prosthesis about a 10 percent risk of becoming infected and needing removal. In addition, the inflatable prosthesis has about a 10 percent risk of breakage, and over many, many years, the synthetic materials of which they're made -- plastics -- can fatigue, and there's probably another 10 percent loss over many years.

The inflatable penile prosthesis is chosen by the majority of men because when not inflated, one would be unaware that a man has a penile prosthesis in place. So, the action is more normal. However, the device is more complicated, and hence, is more susceptible to wear-and-tear or mechanical malfunction.