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Sexual Issues After Cancer: Helpful Advice for Women

Here is a nice clip from the UK for women that has some practical advice about sexual issues after cancer treatments. You should talk with your doctor before treatment begins to find out what to expect in terms of sexuality issues. If there are treatment options, make sure to talk about the side effects of each option. Ask your doctor when it is safe to resume sexual activity after treatment. During and after treatment, talk to your doctor or nurse if you have symptoms that interfere with sexual desire or sexual performance. If you feel uncomfortable talking with your doctor or nurse about your sexual symptoms, ask for a referral to an appropriate health care professional or support group.

Here’s more information from our companion website,

There are a wide range of reasons for changes in sexuality during cancer treatment, and the reasons relate to the treatments themselves as well as to other side effects of treatment.

Surgery has a variety of effects on sexuality. Removal of all or part of a reproductive organ decreases hormone levels, which can lead to overall loss of sexual desire. Such surgery can lead to premature menopause in younger women, and may make sexual intercourse painful or difficult for younger and older women. Surgery in the pelvic area in men can damage the nerves leading to the penis, causing erectile dysfunction. Lastly, surgery that changes body appearance, as with removal of a breast or a testicle, can affect how a person feels about his or her body image. A negative body image can change how you feel about your sexual desirability.

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the pelvis may damage the ovaries in women or the testicles in men, both of which can reduce the amount of hormones produced. This loss of hormones may cause a loss of sexual desire in men and women, premature menopause in younger women, and erectile dysfunction in men.

The side effects of cancer treatments also play an important role in sexuality. Side effects such as fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, diarrhea, and mouth sores can substantially reduce a person’s interest in sex and his or her feelings of desirability.

Some treatments are available for physical sexual issues. For example, vaginal dryness can be treated with vaginal moisturizers and lubricants. Several drugs are available for erectile dysfunction, including sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis). These drugs may not be appropriate for every man, and men should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits. Hot flashes in both women and men have been relieved with low doses of antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and paroxetine (Paxil). Management of side effects that interfere with intimacy can help you feel better overall, which may help you feel more desirable and more interested in sex.

Open communication with your spouse or significant other is key to maintaining a good intimate relationship. You and your partner should share concerns and fears. Talk about ways to be intimate other than with sexual intercourse. You should both understand that it is safe to have sex during cancer treatment (unless your doctor tells you otherwise). Counseling (individual, couples, and/or sex therapy) may be helpful.

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