Does cancer affect your sex life?

Does cancer affect your sex life?

Healthy sex life can be hard to maintain during an illness or its treatment, especially when one is suffering from a disease like cancer. This is because a person experiences a number of physical, psychological, mental or emotional factors that cause the energy of the person to drain.

Cancer treatments usually include lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The common side effects of these treatments include excessive hair loss, scars, easy bruising and bleeding, fatigue, etc. Moreover, patients with breast cancer often experience irritation on their breast and vaginal dryness after the treatment. All of these side effects can affect one’s sexual life.

Doctors usually don’t guide their patients about their sex life after the treatment. They may not feel comfortable talking about it or else do not know what to recommend. Some of them usually think that their patient won’t be interested in sex after such a treatment. However, this shouldn’t be the case. The doctors must discuss the implications that cancer and its treatment can have on the lives of the patients, exclusively in bed. It is important to involve both the partners in the discussion and not just the patient only.

What are the possible reasons?

According to the cases observed by the experts, cancer patients usually feel exhausted and fatigued during and after the treatment. This may render them weak to have intercourse. Hair loss and scars may cause the patient to feel ugly or unattractive which may shatter their confidence in bed.

Cancer and its treatment come with greater physical and emotional demands. It is very normal for people to have their sexual desire to change during and after the treatment. This is mainly because of the highly fluctuating energy levels of an individual. Women may have their periods disturbed during the course of treatment. Men, undergoing treatment for cancer, are observed to have damaged or reduced sperm cells. Furthermore, the reproductive organs, both in men and women, may damage as a result of drugs and therapies used for treating cancer. All of these factors add to an altered and disturbed sexual life in cancer patients.

What solutions can one try?  

Getting back to sex after treatment is a gradual process and cannot be rushed. However, that definitely doesn’t mean you can’t have your sex life back on track. Taking your time and following your own pace will ensure higher success at returning to normal sexual activity. In such a case, communicating with your partner is very important. Both the partners should find the right environment to speak openly about how they feel and what might work in the bedroom.

Vaginal dryness and irritation lead to painful intercourse. Experts recommend such patients to use a good sexual lubricant, especially if they are unable to use topical vaginal estrogen products. Note, it’s really important to be aware of the ingredients of the lubricant being used. Lubricants containing glycerin and glycol can lead to thrush, a common problem post-cancer treatment.

Fatigue is a big issue for people with cancer. Thus, if one feels physically drained, he/she should increase the amount of physical activity slowly, so they may have more energy for sex. Taking light but regular exercise can help the patients with both physical and psychological side effects of treatment, which in turn, improves body image and enhances mood.

We need to make talking about sex the norm, not the exception, during and following cancer treatment. No one should have to give up on their sex life and relationship after cancer. People and health experts should start opening up on the topic for creating general awareness regarding the complications.

Maria Kovacs

Maria is fascinated with research, technology and everything that involves Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is an avid medical writer and often writes content based on the latest research in Health and Medicine. Twitter- @MariaKo51853208

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