Talking about your sexual function with your healthcare team even before there is a problem is key, as some potential problems—such as fertility or potential nerve damage—should be considered before treatment.
“Altered sexuality” is a top concern of people with cancer, yet one that is seldom addressed up front by the oncology team. Many people are embarrassed to bring up the topic with their doctors. However, sexual problems are relatively common among people with cancer and can negatively affect your and your intimate partner’s quality of life. Physical touch and closeness, with or without lovemaking, can be one of the greatest comforts during the difficulties of cancer. No matter your age, your sexuality is important and worthy of your and your healthcare team’s attention.
Managing Sexual Difficulties
Even when people are getting the best of cancer treatment, they often feel like they need more help with organizing their care and managing symptoms and side effects. Helpsy empowers members to take control of their health through a real-time virtual nurse support service. This service is available via mobile devices, a Helpsy website and automated phone calls.
Vaginal moisturizers and vaginal rings supplying low-dose estrogen are used to address sexual discomfort and difficulties for women. Although these are conventional therapies, they may not be included in many conventional treatment programs unless or until a patient expresses a need.
A recent study (not yet published) found that "just about all (99%) of the postmenopausal women who took part in the study scored low on the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), indicating a high degree of sexual dysfunction, including vulvovaginal dryness and severe dyspareunia (painful intercourse)."2 In a discussion of the study, a recommendation was made to physicians to ask patients about sexual difficulties. However, BCCT encourages you to report symptoms and ask for help if your doctor doesn't ask.
In addition to conventional interventions for sexual problems, complementary therapies and lifestyle practices may also help:
- Mind-body approaches including these:
- Moving more
- Eating well
- Sleeping well
- Sharing love and support
- Exploring what matters now
- Some herbal and natural products: search our Therapy Summaries database, selecting "Sexual difficulties" in the Symptoms box
Beyond complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.
Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems
|For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.|
- Programs and protocols
- Traditional systems
Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on November 15, 2019.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Your Sexual Health and Cancer: What to Know, What to Do
- National Cancer Institute:
- Susan G. Komen: Sexuality and Intimacy
- Will2Love, LLC resources on sexuality and fertility for people with cancer:
- iHeartRadio Five to Thrive Live: Sexuality During and After Cancer
- Resources specifically for adolescents and young adults with cancer:
- Stupid Cancer: Fertility Assistance and Resources
- American Society of Clinical Oncology:
- Dr. Cynthia Li: Brave New Medicine
- Helpsy Inc.: Helpsy Health
- Dawn Lemanne and Victoria Maizes: Advising Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer
- Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine: Breast Cancer: An Integrative Approach (2019-2021)
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Cancer.Net
- Dr. Leslie Schover: Will2Love
- Sexuality during and after Cancer