Sex and Cancer

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

DECEMBER 13, 2017

As we all know and as I have said/written many times, a cancer diagnosis and treatment are never sexual enhancements. In all my years in the business, I have never heard anyone say anything remotely like: "Boy, my sex life has gotten so much better since cancer." Instead, I hear the opposite, over and over and over again. People are discouraged and unhappy that their libidos are compromised (often totally absent), that their bodies don't respond in familiar ways, that they are hampered by their physical changes and, most of all, their mood and thoughts.

Although no one, sadly, has any wonderful recommendations, at least the topic is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. When someone is recently diagnosed or in active treatment, sexuality is usually (usually, not always) towards the bottom of their worry list. Once time passes, however, and life has returned to what now is normal, people are too often distressed by the negative changes in their intimate relationships.

This is from Medscape:

Time to Have the Talk! Sex and the Cancer Patient

Roxanne Nelson

That is a question that a great many cancer patients would love to hear from their oncologists, but unfortunately, sexuality is not a topic that gets much attention. A panel of experts here at the Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium (PCOS) 2017 tackled the subject of sex and the cancer patient and presented preliminary data demonstrating how "low-tech" interventions can make a dramatic difference for patients.

Sexuality is a somewhat taboo topic in oncology care, and perhaps even more so in palliative care, explained panel member Anne Katz, PhD, RN, certified sexuality counselor at Cancer Care Manitoba, Canada. "But we know that this is important to patients and their partners across the cancer journey." She cited a study (Psychooncology. 2011;21:594-601) that found that fewer than half (45%) of all cancer patients had a conversation with their healthcare provider about sex. By cancer type, 21% of lung cancer patients had such a conversation, as did 33% of breast cancer patients, 41% of colorectal cancer patients, and 80% of prostate cancer patients. 

Men, it seems, get the "sex talk" a lot more frequently than women do. According to Dr Katz, the "whole thing is skewed" by prostate cancer. More than twice as many men speak to their providers about sex as compared to women. "If we didn't talk about nausea, if we didn't talk about constipation, we would be regarded as negligent, even indulging in malpractice," Dr Katz pointed out. "Yet we are leaving out conversations about this very important quality-of-life issue,which persists into end-of-life care. "Sexuality is much more than just intercourse. It is about touch and intimacy and about much more than what we do in the bedroom," she said.


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