Cancer can have a umber of effects on sexual health. According to one poll conducted by LIVESTRONG, nearly 60% of cancer survivors report experiencing sexual dysfunction after treatment. As many as 85% to 90% of survivors of prostate, breast and gynecologic cancer survivors report long-term concerns regarding physical intimacy.
Post-cancer sexual concerns may be both mental and physical in nature. Emotionally, both partners may feel nervous about having sex after one of them has had a serious illness. A survivor’s partner may be worried about emotionally pressuring or causing physical pain to his or her partner. A survivor may feel nervous about how his or her partner will respond to changes in their physical appearance, which can be considered a “body image issue.” Body image issues after cancer treatment involve your mind (changes in how you feel about your body) and your body (changes in how your body looks.)
Both partners also may worry about having a lowered sex drive and question whether they’ll be able to achieve orgasm. And, many couples experience an adjustment period as they transition away from what may have become a patient/caregiver relationship during treatment back to the romantic partner relationship they enjoyed before the cancer diagnosis.
Some cancers and their treatments are associated with specific symptoms of sexual dysfunction. The following symptoms do not affect all survivors but are considered relatively common. Many of these symptoms will go away over time.
Rectal or colon cancer patients who receive surgery and/or radiation may experience bowel/bladder changes and complications associated with ostomies/stomas.
As it was before a cancer diagnosis, the key to a healthy and fulfilling sex life after cancer is communicating with your partner. Sharing your anxieties and fears with your partner is the first step toward restoring a mutually satisfying sex life. Discussing issues is healthy and opens up a channel to resolve issues. Often, couples discover that their biggest fears were all in their head.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to begin a dialogue about intimacy. Individual and/or couples counseling is often very helpful. If you’re experiencing anxiety surrounding your sex life, be open and honest with your oncology team or another healthcare provider. They may be able to recommend therapists, and tools and techniques to improve your libido and sexual function.
Every cancer survivor’s physical symptoms, emotions, and relationships are different. There is no one-size-fits-all regimen for improving your sex life after cancer. But the following are suggestions to consider:
Life after cancer is a marathon, not a sprint! You and your partner have gone through a journey that probably felt at times like a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Now it’s time to enjoy life on solid ground and rediscover the things you put on the back burner during cancer treatment, including intimacy. Be patient and empathic with each other and don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Your sexual health is an important component of your overall health and quality of life as a cancer survivor!