Sexual Pain in Cancer Survivors: Are You Asking?

November 28, 2016

Are healthcare providers taking cancer survivors’ sexual health seriously? Are women (and men) being asked about their sexual health during and/or following treatment? Apparently not.

Are healthcare providers taking cancer survivors’ sexual health seriously? Are women (and men) being asked about their sexual health during and/or following treatment? Apparently not.

Many women are surviving cancer; however, they are now living with some of the unwanted long-term treatment-related side effects, including painful intercourse (dyspareunia).1The problem, however, goes ignored in a number of cases due to several factors, including patient embarrassment gynecologic healthcare provider discomfort, and potential lack of solutions.

A recent article published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, “Sexual Health in Women Affected by Cancer: Focus on Sexual Pain,” aimed to address sexual function treatment side effects from cancer treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapies.2

Co-author, Vanessa Kennedy, MD, explains that “sexual pain is often written off as ‘in people’s heads,’ but it is more often a result of physical issues that can be helped. It is important to be able to have the conversation comfortably and to know how to address the common issues that are often predictable, depending on a patient’s treatment course.”1 Dr. Kennedy explains that for female cancer survivors, the most commonly experienced cause of dyspareunia is hypoestrogenism.

There are now sexual health clinics available at most large oncology centers, including UC Davis, where women can be evaluated and treated for cancer-related sexual dysfunction. Dr. Kennedy explains that, “Time and time again, I see women who have had negative impacts for years following cancer therapy. It’s an incredible relief for them to be able to just sit down and have the conversation.”1

Are your cancer centers addressing women’s (and men’s) sexual health following treatment for cancer? If so, how?

References:

1. UC Davis Health System. Sexual pain in women after cancer is common, and too often ignored. 2016 Oct 20.

2. Coady D, Kennedy V. Sexual Health in Women Affected by Cancer: Focus on Sexual Pain. Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Oct;128(4):775-91.