Sexual Problems for Women after Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 06, 2017

In the service of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am picking this topic this morning because I am fighting with our Maine satellite internet. (Not that any of you should care, but Town Meeting passed a proposal to fund real internet for the portions of our village that are not currently covered. Hurray! This hopefully means that these daily struggles will soon be gone.) What does that have to do with an article about sex? My hope is that you will forgive my short comments because you will be interested in getting right to the topic.

This is from Cancer Network, and is the first of a two part series that is really aimed at physicians. This one will direct you to the second if you want to read it all.

How to Address Sexual Problems in Female Cancer Patients

Sexual health is an important aspect of human life, and cancer does not (and should not) change that. Data suggest that issues related to sexual function are quite common among women treated for cancer. However, clinicians often spend little to no time on the topic. This article provides a concise summary on the importance of sexual health among women treated for cancer, as well as an approach that general cancer clinicians can adopt in order to normalize sexual health issues for their patients. Finally, we provide an overview of sexual health therapeutics available in the United States and in Europe.

In 2015, 1,658,370 new cases of cancer were diagnosed and 589,430 persons died of cancer in the United States.[1] However, the proportion of people living with and surviving cancer is growing. More than 7.5 million out of 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States are women, and that number is expected to grow to 9,602,590 by 2024. The increase in survival rates reflects both earlier diagnosis and improvement in treatment.[1] Despite the data showing that most survivors have a good prognosis, current treatments can result in problems, including symptoms related to sexual health.

In 2007, Beckjord and Campas documented significant disruption in sexual quality of life that was the result of treatments and of emotional distress—rather than of age—in women with a diagnosis of breast cancer.[2] Estimates of the incidence of sexual dysfunction range from 30% to 100% among female cancer survivors, depending on the population queried and on how sexual dysfunction is characterized .[3,4] Sexual dysfunction affects both women with illness and women in the general population, and discussing sexual health in both populations remains difficult—for both patients and providers.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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