Advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer has led to more individuals living longer with cancer and after treatment for cancer. Due to this shift, healthcare professionals are recognizing the importance of maximizing quality of life for those impacted by cancer including the patient and their loved ones.
Sexual activity has often been under-addressed by healthcare professionals for these individuals and their partners causing more cancer patients to be dissatisfied with their sex lives as compared to those of similar age without cancer. (Jackson)
According to the Mayo Clinic, side effects from cancer treatments that can affect any individual’s sex life include pain during sex, less energy for sexual activity, feeling less attractive, weaker orgasms, loss of desire for sex, and hormonal changes.
Women can also experience vaginal dryness and early onset of menopause while men most commonly suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Open communication with your healthcare team is vital to recovering your sex drive. Often individuals benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach that can treat both the physical and psychological impact of your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Your medical doctors including your oncologist, urologist, or nurses can give you specifics on the effects your specific cancer and treatments may have on your sexual function.
They can make recommendations for if/when sexual intercourse is safe, prescribe medications or creams, address symptoms limiting sexual activity, and recommended any needed medical devices.
You may also benefit from seeing a provider who can address the psychological impact of cancer including a social worker, psychologist, or sex therapist. Treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management, addressing fears regarding diagnosis/treatment or return to sexual activity, and discuss impacts of cancer on self-esteem and body image.
Research has shown that healthcare providers are notoriously bad at bringing up sexual changes from cancer so be prepared to initiate these conversations or ask questions if your concerns are not being addressed.
These discussions are vital in all stages of cancer treatment from initial diagnosis to end of life care if needed to support the importance of sexual health on quality of life.
Individuals who are transgender or identify as LGBTQ+ might consider seeking out providers with training in these areas to address your specific healthcare needs when it comes to cancer treatment and your sexual health.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment often lead to changes physically and/or mentally that impact sexual desire and function.
By addressing the specific impacts to your sex life both individually and with your partner, you can minimize these negative affects to maintain a satisfying sex life.
Jackson, S. E., Wardle, J., Steptoe, A., & Fisher, A. (2016). Sexuality after a cancer diagnosis: A population-based study. Cancer, 122(24), 3883–3891. https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.30263
How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Can Affect Sexuality. Cancer.org. (2020). Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/how-cancer-affects-sexuality.html.
Sexuality and Intimacy | Susan G. Komen®. Ww5.komen.org. (2018). Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/SexandSexuality.html.
Vacuum Erection Device (VED). Healthcare.utah.edu. (2020). Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://healthcare.utah.edu/menshealth/conditions/erectile-dysfunction/vacuum-erection-device.php.
How Radiation Therapy Can Affect the Sex Life of Females with Cancer. Cancer.org. (2020). Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/pelvic-radiation.html.
Miles T, Johnson N. 2014. Vaginal dilator therapy for women receiving pelvic radiotherapy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD007291. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007291.pub3.
Cancer treatment for men: Possible sexual side effects. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20045422.