One may wonder why persons affected by cancer would be concerned about sexual health and why it is an important part of survivorship. Patients often talk about wanting to feel normal and regain some semblance of their pre-cancer life, yet do we ever ask them what that life would be like, how it would look or feel?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), “Sexual health and function are important components of quality of life for everyone, no matter their age. People who have sexual problems after cancer treatment are more likely to have poor quality of life and other issues, such as depression and lack of self-esteem.”
Let’s look at the following statistics for cancer survivors based on the Cancer Survivor’s Report on Sexual Dysfunction.
In addition to the above, the following are patient perceptions:
The long-term effects of cancer and its treatment impact patients medically, psychologically, financially, and spiritually. Medically, patients can experience pain, fatigue, memory problems, lymphedema and sexual impairment. Psychologically, patients can experience depression, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, isolation, altered body image, and poor quality of life. Financially, patients can have concerns about health or life insurance, job loss and return to work or school. Additionally, financial hardship can create challenges for all cancer survivors.
According to City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, “Sex and sexuality are important and rewarding parts of life. Cancer and its treatment — including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can cause emotional and physical changes that affect how one feels about themselves and their relationships. Concerns about sexual health are quite common, and in a study of more than 3,000 cancer survivors, 66% reported worrying about sexual function including:
Assessing and addressing sexual health is a quality of life issue for cancer patients as a cancer diagnosis is life changing and one’s sexuality defines who one is and how one participates in the world. At the McLeod Center for Cancer Treatment and Research, we strive to address patient’s needs during and after treatment and to routinely integrate broaching the subject of sexual health and normalizing patient’s experiences.
To that end, our oncology social worker, Raquel Serrano, MSW, LMSW, OSW-C, now holds a Certificate in Sex Therapy from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is available to address this very important quality of life issue with our patients and their significant others. For more information, please email Raquel at firstname.lastname@example.org.