Cancer is a serious disease that can greatly impact an individual on both a physical and psychological level. Here, we will examine how the physical and psychological effects of cancer and cancer treatments can adversely impact intimate relationships and sexual health and libido. We will also delve into how providing care to a spouse or partner with cancer can impact intimacy, and the steps that might be employed to overcome cancer-related sexual issues.
The Physical and Psychological Effects of Cancer on Sexuality
Most types of cancer, especially variations of the disease that attack the reproductive tract, can produce several manifestations related to an individual’s sexuality and sexual health.
Physical Manifestations of Cancer
In both men and women, cancer can precipitate significant, sometimes intense pain. Regardless of the infiltrated body part, the physical activity required to engage in sexual intercourse might produce pain that makes participating in the activity unenjoyable. In the presence of cancers native to reproductive or sexual organs such as the prostate, breast, testicles, uterus and ovaries, genital or breast pain might make sex even more uncomfortable.
Sexual Performance Issues
In addition to pain, cancer might elicit sexual performance symptoms. In men, malignancies of the prostate may precipitate premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction. Cancers to a woman’s reproductive organs could produce maladies like vaginal dryness and lubrication problems that might inhibit her ability to reach orgasm.
Low Libido and Intimacy Difficulties
Any form of cancer might precipitate incidents of low libido because those stricken simply may not have the physical or emotional desire to focus on sexuality. That said, body image issues associated with specific forms of the illness may also play into intimacy issues. For example, a woman stricken with breast cancer might need to undergo surgery which forces her to lose one or both breasts. Such an occurrence might cause the impacted individual to lose interest in their bodies and view themselves as physically and sexually undesirable.
How Cancer Treatments May Impact Sex Life
Therapeutic protocols for cancer are administered using a variety of treatments. Many of them, however, have the potential to precipitate varying degrees of sexual side effects.
This form of treatment involves the administration of various cancer-killing drugs as a means of eradicating or slowing the progression of the specific malignancy. Chemotherapy may elicit sexual side effects in both men and women.
In women, chemotherapy can cause a decreased sex drive, increase the risk of infertility, precipitate the occurrence of irregular menstrual cycles and might induce early onset menopause. Men undergoing chemotherapy may experience sexual manifestations including a diminished sex drive, erectile problems and a decreased sperm count, which might eventually lead to fertility struggles.
Chemotherapy-related sexual problems may resolve once treatment is completed. However, in certain instances, such difficulties might be permanent. Other factors could play into the duration of these maladies such as the type of cancer the drugs are being used to treat, the specific chemicals being utilized, the stricken individual’s age, general health and the impact treatment has on their sexual and reproductive organs.
Radiation therapy involves the application of radio waves to a specific bodily region infiltrated by cancer. When radiation treatments are applied to the sexual or reproductive tracts of both men and women, sexual side effects may occur. Such manifestations include reduced libido and sperm counts in men and menstrual disturbances in women. Radiation therapy might also cause significant bleeding in both the men’s and women’s sexual systems.
For certain malignancies like prostate cancer, hormone therapy might be indicated. Hormone therapy is designed to either increase or decrease the specific bodily concentrations of various hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone) an individual has. Some cancers might be sensitive to an increase or decrease of such chemicals and thus may be slowed or killed. Hormone therapy may also precipitate low libido because of its effects on overall hormone balance.
Specific drugs prescribed for cancer patients could elicit sexual symptoms including diminished libido and sexual functions.
In some cases, surgery is needed to remove cancerous tissue. If various reproductive or sexual organs are removed, sexual symptoms might result. Moreover, the post-operative scarring that may develop after the procedure could produce pain that could diminish libido or make intercourse tough to perform.
Cancer’s Sexual Impact on a Caregiver
Sexual intimacy may also become an issue for those providing care to a spouse or partner dealing with the disease and treatment. Caregivers might often experience fatigue, anxiety and depression that reduces their desire to engage in intercourse.
How to Overcome Cancer-Related Sexual Issues
Those experiencing cancer-induced sexual symptoms should consult with their physicians. The treatment options prescribed could be influenced by many different variables such as the specific cancer the affected person has, the type of sexual manifestations said individual is experiencing, their overall health, physical and sexual condition and age.