When you are diagnosed with cancer, your first thoughts might be about mortality, family or mapping out a plan to beat the disease. You’re probably not thinking about sex. But experts say you should be.
It turns out that among the 12 million cancer survivors living in the U.S., a huge number of them suffer from some kind of sexual problem directly related to their cancer or treatment. (Estimates range from 40 to 100 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute, depending on the type of cancer and therapy.)
Earlier this week, in a post entitled, Sex After Cancer: How To Get Your Groove Back, several cancer patients spoke frankly about their shattered sex lives both during and after treatment, and how they coped. (Answers: with therapy, hormones, patience, vibrators and talking, talking, talking with their partners.)
Here, clinical psychologist Dr. Sharon Bober, founder and director of the Sexual Health Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, discusses the most important facts about sex and sexual health all cancer patients should know before, during and after treatment.
1. Sex Is Bigger Than Any Body Part
Sexuality is complex, Bober says, and the ways that cancer and treatment can undermine a person’s sexuality are multifaceted. Of course, if you are facing prostate, ovarian or any cancer involving a sex organ, the impact of chemotherapy, radiation or surgery will be direct and physical. But people with head and neck cancer, for example, might also face huge obstacles when it comes to intimacy: disfigurement, the loss of saliva, fatigue and other symptoms might contribute to a sharp decline in libido. Treatment-induced menopause may make it harder (or impossible) to reach an orgasm. Infertility could be a problem. And therapies that involve multiple doctors and technicians prodding and manipulating your body might, understandably, trigger a sharp drop in your desire to be touched, even lovingly. “It’s how you feel about your body,” Bober says. “Not just what’s happening to your body.” Continue reading