“It’s very important to talk with your cancer care team about what to expect, and continue to talk about what’s changing or has changed in your sexual life”.1

Umbrella
What may the Sexual Health and Women and Cancer Umbrella include?

Depending on the Source (DotS) this Umbrella may include:

  • Cancer, Sex and Sexuality
  • Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer

Sex, Sexuality and Intimacy

How can having cancer and cancer treatment affect sex, sexuality and intimacy?

In Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Image]: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body [+ Images] the American Cancer Society (ACS) explain:

“Sex, sexuality, and intimacy are just as important for people with cancer as they are for people who don’t have cancer. In fact, sexuality and intimacy have been shown to help people face cancer by helping them deal with feelings of distress, and when going through treatment. But, the reality is that a person’s sex organs, sexual desire (sex drive or libido), sexual function, well-being, and body image can be affected by having cancer and cancer treatment. How a person shows sexuality can also be affected”.2

Sexual Side Effects

What sexual side effects are most common?

In Cancer Treatment for Women: Possible Sexual Side Effects – What Sexual Side Effects Are Most Common? the (United States) Mayo Clinic explain:

“The treatment you receive and your type and stage of cancer will determine whether you experience sexual side effects. The most commonly reported side effects among women include:

  • Difficulty reaching climax
  • Less energy for sexual activity
  • Loss of desire for sex
  • Pain during penetration
  • Reduced size of the vagina
  • Vaginal dryness

Not all women will experience these side effects. Your doctor can give you an idea of whether your specific treatment will cause any of these”.3

Dyspareunia

What is dyspareunia?

In Women’s Wellness: Sexual Health After Cancer [+ Video] a Mayo Clinic general internal medicine physician elaborates on:

““Dyspareunia is the medical term for the pain that a lot of women will experience after cancer treatment, especially if their hormones have been affected. The loss of estrogen, specifically, often will result in changes in the vaginal mucosa,” Dr. Thielen explains. “The cells are not able to lubricate like they should, and we lose elasticity of those vaginal walls, too. So subsequently, there can be pain””.4

Step One

What is the first step in addressing how cancer and cancer treatment can affect sex, sexuality and intimacy?

In Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Images]: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – The 1st Step: Good Communication the ACS elaborate on:

“The first step is to bring up the topic of sex with your doctor or someone on your partner and cancer care team. It’s very important to talk with your cancer care team about what to expect, and continue to talk about what’s changing or has changed in your sexual life as you go through procedures, treatments, and follow-up care. This includes letting them know what over-the-counter and prescription medications, vitamins, or supplements you may be taking because they might interfere with treatments”.5

Questions To Ask

What are some questions to ask?

In Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Images]: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – Questions To Ask the ACS include:

Sexual Health and Women and Cancer

“You probably have certain questions and things you’re wondering about. Here are some you may want to ask your doctor or nurse these questions you can use to jump start talks with your cancer care team about having sex during and after treatment:

  • How might treatment affect my sex life?
  • Is it safe to have sex now? If not, when will it be OK to have sex?
  • Are there any types of sex I should avoid?
  • Do I need birth control or other protection during treatment? How about afterwards? For how long?
  • Can my medications or treatment be passed to my partner through my body fluids?
  • What safety measures do I need to take, and for how long? What birth control should I use? For how long?”6

Where may I find more questions to ask?

You may find more questions to ask in Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Images]: Questions Adult Females Have About Cancer and Sex.

Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) or Gender Non-Conforming

What if a person is lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming?

In Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Image]: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body the ACS note:

“If you are lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming, you may have needs that are not addressed here. It’s very important to talk to your cancer care team and give them information about your sexual orientation and gender identity, including what gender you were at birth, how you describe yourself now, any procedures you’ve had done, or hormone treatments you may have taken or are taking”.7

Partners

How may partners help?

In Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer [+ Images]: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – The 3rd Step: Keep Talking and Work Together To Manage Problems the ACS elaborate on:

“…during and after cancer treatment, there may be times when the kind of sex you like best is not possible. Those times can be a chance to learn new ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. You and your partner can help each other reach orgasm through touching and stroking. At times, just cuddling can be pleasurable. You could also continue to enjoy touching yourself. Do not stop sexual pleasure just because your usual routine has been changed”.8

Health Care Provider

What if a person is not asked about their sexual health concerns?

If a person is not asked about their sexual health concerns, it may be in their best interest to choose to talk to their health care providers about this.

In Cancer Treatment for Women: Possible Sexual Side Effects – What Can You Do To Regain Sexual Function? the Mayo Clinic explain:

  • “Talk with your health care team. It can feel uncomfortable to talk about sexual side effects. Though talking about sex can be awkward, you’re not likely to find a solution if you don’t let someone know what you’re experiencing.Write down your questions if it makes you feel more comfortable. In addition, your doctor may be embarrassed or hesitant to talk about sex. If this is the case, ask to be referred to a specialist or seek support from other members of your health care team, such as nurses and counselors”.9

Health Topics A-Z

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Sources

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Sources

  1. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  2. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  3. Cancer Treatment for Women: Possible Sexual Side Effects – What Sexual Side Effects Are Most Common? 06 June 2020. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20047214 Accessed: 23 October 2020
  4. Women’s Wellness: Sexual Health After Cancer Treatment. 11 March 2020. Mayo Clinic https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/womens-wellness-sexual-health-after-cancer-treatment/ Accessed: 23 October 2020
  5. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – The 1st Step: Good Communication. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  6. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – Questions To Ask. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  7. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  8. Sex and the Adult Female With Cancer: Cancer, Sex, and the Female Body – The 3rd Step: Keep Talking and Work Together To Manage Problems. Last Revised: 06 February 2020. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer/cancer-sex-sexuality.html Accessed: 23 October 2020
  9. Cancer Treatment for Women: Possible Sexual Side Effects – What Can You Do To Regain Sexual Function? 06 June 2020. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20047214 Accessed: 23 October 2020

Topic Last Updated: 23 October 2020 – Topic Last Reviewed: 23 October 2020
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