A common concern during your cancer journey is how the disease and treatment will impact your current or future relationships. A diagnosis of cancer may affect you in many ways, including your sexuality. Sexuality can encompass physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual factors. It includes your self-image, body image, reproductive ability, emotional intimacy, sensual feelings and sexual functioning.
A common concern during your cancer journey is how the disease and treatment will impact your current or future relationships. A diagnosis of cancer may affect you in many ways, including your sexuality.
The impact of cancer affects sexuality in a number of ways. Sexuality-related concerns may arise from the physical aspects of disease or treatment, as well as from emotional aspects. Anger, guilt, or worry about illness and survival, treatment or finances may also affect sexuality.
- Disease processes and treatment effects can lead to biological or physical changes in sexual functioning
- Treatment effects and symptoms may impact sexual desire and feelings of desirability
- Your mood will affect how your relate to others and how your feel about your body
- The way you communicate and relate to others may be challenged upon a cancer diagnosis
The perception of sexual dysfunction is very individual and comes down to what is abnormal for you. Common physical effects for women include vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse. Men may experience erectile dysfunction. There are also other concerns which may impact on your sexuality:
- altered sensation and response
- changes in ability to reach orgasm
- depression and anxiety
- loss of intimacy
- changes to the quality of relationships
- communication challenges
- partners’ concern and uncertainty
Sexuality and intimacy are often overlooked topics of discussion when you are first diagnosed with cancer. Initially, this may not be a priority for you. If you haven’t received any information from your care team, it’s not because sexuality and intimacy aren’t important. This can be a difficult topic to discuss or bring up with your doctor or nurse – particularly in a busy, open environment.
Please feel free, if comfortable, to discuss any concerns you may have regarding sexuality issues with your care team. If they are unable to provide sufficient answers for you, you may be referred to more experienced practitioners.
There are many things that can be done to improve your sexual function. Lubricants and moisturisers are recommended to alleviate vaginal dryness and pain. Pelvic floor muscle training may improve sexual pain, arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction. Erectile dysfunction can be managed through risk factor modification (e.g. smoking cessation, weight loss, avoiding alcohol), medication and therapy. Counselling and/or couples therapy may also be helpful.
Your care team can provide you with reputable websites and resources for further information.