Sexual Health Q&A

What is water vapor thermal therapy and what is it used for?

Water vapor thermal therapy is an investigational, minimally invasive treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) associated with an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia – BPH).

Urinary problems are common in men with an enlarged prostate. As the prostate gland gets bigger, the tissue puts pressure on the urethra (the tube that allows urine and semen to leave the body). As a result, men may have more difficulty urinating.

There are several ways to treat an enlarged prostate, including medications, minimally invasive procedures and surgery. However, some men experience erection and ejaculation problems after these treatments.

In 2016, the Journal of Sexual Medicine published research suggesting that recently developed water vapor thermal therapy can relieve the LUTS while preserving sexual function to some degree.

This method uses water vapor to destroy prostate cells that are squeezing the urethra.

The treatment can be administered in a doctor’s office. To do so, a urologist uses a special handheld device with a retractable needle at the end. The needle is gently moved up the urethra so that it can target prostate tissue.

The device itself is connected to a generator. A combination of radiofrequency energy and sterile water moves from the generator to the device. The water is then converted to steam, which moves up the needle.

The urologist aims the needle toward selected prostate tissue and releases a 9-second dose of water vapor. The needle can then be positioned to target other tissue as necessary.

The 2016 study involved 197 men (average age 63) who had urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate. Some of the men underwent thermal water vapor therapy and some received a similar placebo treatment. The researchers then followed the men’s progress for a year.

The researchers found that thermal water vapor therapy could relieve urinary problems and improve urine flow. They also reported that 30% of the men in the treatment group had improved ejaculation and 27% had better erections at the 12-month follow-up point. (For more details on the study, please click here.)

More research is still needed about thermal water vapor therapy, however. It is still unclear how this approach compares to other minimally invasive therapies. Also, the study did not address other factors that can influence a man’s sexual function, like lifestyle and metabolic syndrome.

Men who are experiencing urinary issues should speak to their urologist, who can go over the advantages and disadvantages of the various treatment methods.