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Most Female Cancer Survivors Want Help for Sexual Problems, But Few Get It

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When it comes to their sexual health, few women are told about possible changes in their intimate lives before they undergo treatments for gynecological and breast cancers. Many survivors agree it is a huge gap in their overall treatment that can leave women feeling desperate and alone to deal with their problems in silence.

Sexual problems in women after gynecological and breast cancer treatment are well documented — pain, dryness, loss of desire, difficulty with arousal and orgasm, negative thoughts and feelings during sex and changes in body appearance due to treatments, but few doctors discuss this with their patients.

Cancer survivors often struggle with body-image concerns, and don't feel attractive or feminine after treatment, says Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, a senior author of a study that examines the sexual needs of female cancer survivors.

Getting help isn’t easy either. Few centers in the United States have the expertise to treat sexual problems in women and girls with cancer, says Lindau, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Chicago Medical Center.

As a result, “Physicians will often empathize with a patient's concerns, but struggle with a lack of knowledge about how to help.

“Many women also don't discuss the issues with their spouse or partner,” she said in a written statement.

Lindau says while some women have the courage to raise sexual concerns with their doctor, numerous studies show most women would prefer to have the doctor initiate that discussion. But doctors rarely discuss the full impact of cancer treatments with women and girls with cancer, according to the studies.

By contrast, many physicians routinely address concerns about sexual function in the treatment of prostate cancer. Preservation of sexual function is a topic that is proactively addressed with men before a treatment decision is made and continues openly throughout prostate cancer care in many centers, Lindau said.

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Before I was discharged from hospital after undergoing brachytherapy, I was given a set of dilators, and told to read the instructions. When I realised what they were for, I searched the internet and found that the walls of my vagina could have become fused through the radiotherapy. I found eventually, after examination by my gyne that there is extensive scarring there. But that's the least of my problems. When I recovered and asked my husband if he still found me attractive, he bluntly declared "That side of our marriage is over". I'm still reeling. I'm very tempted to go back to an old boy-friend who finds me incredibly attractive and is always suggesting getting together.

October 5, 2011 - 7:16am
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