Sexual dysfunction is one of the most common and distressing side effects of treatment among female cancer survivors.
Cancer treatment as well as the emotional impact of treatment have the potential to negatively affect sexual health and wellness – including desire, arousal, orgasm, and pain (dyspareunia). Sexual dysfunction can also negatively impact body image, self-esteem and sexual satisfaction. You don’t have to just live with it. There are treatment options for survivors.
Sexual Health and Wellness in Survivors
Sexual dysfunction can impact 30 – 100% of female cancer survivors. Your sexual health is vital to your over all health and wellbeing and it is an area of concern consistently identified by women after treatment for cancer. Your oncologists should be asking you about your sexual health and well being. In fact, ASCO released a statement as well as (The American Society of Clinical Oncology) issued new guidelines on ways doctors can help treat sexual problems in people diagnosed with cancer.
“Sexual health and function are important components of quality of life for everyone, no matter their age. People who have sexual problems after cancer treatment are more likely to have poor quality of life and other issues, such as depression and lack of self-esteem.”
The ASCO Guidelines recommend: “For all people diagnosed with cancer, a member of the patient’s healthcare team should initiate a discussion on sexual health and any sexual problems caused by the cancer or its treatment. The conversation could include the patient’s partner, but ONLY if the patient would like the partner to be part of the discussion. The discussion should first start when the patient is diagnosed and continue to take place periodically throughout treatment and follow-up.”
How Cancer Treatment Impacts Sexual Health and Wellness
Arousal: Survivors can experience Female Sexual Arousal Disorder (FSAD). This is characterized by the distressing difficulty or inability to attain or maintain adequate mental excitement associated with sexual activity as manifested by problems with feeling engaged or mentally turned on or sexually aroused, for a minimum of 6 months.
Orgasm: Orgasm dysfunction is characterized by the persistent or recurrent, distressing compromise of orgasm frequency, intensity, timing, or pleasure associated with sexual activity for a minimum of 6 months.
Desire / Libido: Survivors can also experience Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) or low libido. This is defined as the absence of sexual fantasies and thoughts and or desire for receptivity to sexual activity that causes personal distress or difficulties in her relationship for at least 6 months.
Sexual Pain: Sexual Pain or Dyspareunia is characterized persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after sex.
Emotionally: Survivors often have issues with body image and due to sexual dysfunction may also have relationship and intimacy issues. At HerMD, we have a robust referral network of sexual health therapists who work with both survivors and their partners.
There are treatment options for survivors who experience sexual dysfunction. Sexual health patients often require a multidisciplinary approach which may include multiple treatment options. HerMD providers partner with you and your oncologist to create a personalized treatment plan for you.
- Topical T
Dyspareunia (Pain) / Dryness (GSM)
- Local E
- Pelvic Floor Therapy
If you are experiencing a loss of desire, are having problems with arousal, or are having difficulties with orgasm AND it causes you distress and you have been experiencing this distress for 6 months, then it is time to talk to your health care provider. With pain, if you are experiencing pain during intercourse or vaginal dryness that leads to pain or discomfort then you should also talk with your provider to see if you may be experiencing sexual dysfunction and that your treatment options may be.
Not all survivors will experience issues with their sexual health and wellness. sexual problems. If a sexual health concern does occur, you should discuss any problems and symptoms with your provider—especially if you begin to notice any changes in your ability to have or enjoy sex.
Sexual health and wellness is an essential part of your overall heath and wellness, If left untreated, it can lead to a lower quality of life and may also impact your relationships.
It may be difficult to talk with your oncologist, or any health care provider, about your sexual health. It’s important to remember that many survivors experience sexual dysfunction and your provider is there to help you. If you do not feel comfortable bringing it up with your oncologist, you can always schedule an appointment with a HerMD provider. Our team of providers are all trained in sexual health and survivorship.
You may be. We work closely with your oncology team to determine if you are a candidate for hormonal treatment options. If not, we work with you to find other treatment options that can help with your sexual satisfaction.
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