Sexual Dysfunction After Cancer Survival: What Health Care Providers Can Do

When people are faced with cancer, their main concerns are understandably treatment and survival. However, many are shocked to discover that when they survive cancer, another sinister blow on their health can arise: sexual dysfunction. Check out the source article from the Huffington Post here.
Robert Moore, 26, survived testicular cancer only to realize 6 months later that he was having erectile dysfunction. When he met a school teacher who he started to pursue, he became very anxious about his sexual dysfunction. He never discussed his issues with her and as the relationship started to become more serious, he eventually broke up with her before things became physical.
Although cancer can affect many ways of a person’s life, few might imagine that patients are left with another potentially crippling side effect after treatment. Sexual dysfunction can prove to be another health issue that cancer survivor’s face that can seriously affect the quality of their sexual health, relationships, body image, and confidence.

In 2015, over 15 million people were cancer survivors. As more and more people are surviving cancer, the unique and lifelong issues left by treatment must be addressed, including sexual dysfunction.

Men like Robert Moore are not the only victims of sexual dysfunction. 30-100 percent of women have sexual dysfunction right after cancer treatment. Up to 75% of men who had pelvic cancer can have issues with erections.

While having cancer comes with its own health risks, adding sexual problems to the mix can only make it worse for teenagers and young adults especially.

A recent study in Denmark studied 800 young adult cancer survivors and over 50% of them said cancer made them feel worse about their body. 45% of the study participants said they felt less attractive. Sex drives dropped in 31% of the cancer survivors. 24% even said they did not want to flirt or even pursue a relationship.

American research also did a study on sexual dissatisfaction.  A 2017 study in the US found almost 50 percent of teenage and young adult survivors said cancer negatively affected sexual function a year after diagnosis. 70% of respondents said the same thing after 2 years.

There can be vaginal dryness, trouble with orgasm, or problems maintaining erection and all of this can cause psychological issues. This is a huge part of health and wellness for cancer survivors that is being ignored.

What can be done?
Addressing sexual dysfunction in young adult cancer patients can be challenging. Can they be given Viagra? A vibrator? For patients under 18 who have little or no sexual experience, it can be controversial and confusing to treat them. Would a health care provider even want to address conversations about sexual satisfaction if a patient is under 18?

Cancer centers are starting to become more comprehensive and incorporate cancer survivors’ sexual issues. These programs can be led by gynecologists, urologists, or psychiatrists. One such program is at the University of Chicago.

Opening up conversation between patients and health care professionals about sexual health after cancer treatment is another way to improve quality of life for patients. Doctors could even prepare patients for potential sexual issues before cancer treatment begins.

Although sex and sexuality can feel taboo, it must not be ignored in healthcare. As more and more people survive cancer, all aspects of health—including sexual health—must be addressed and improved to provide survivors with the best quality of life post cancer treatment.

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