Health and academic organisations are calling for more awareness of the sexual issues faced by all cancer survivors and not just cancer survivors who have been treated for a sexual and reproductive cancer.
The call comes as new Australian research announced today reveals that sexual changes after cancer are not exclusive to survivors of sexual and reproductive cancers.
Trends showing significant reductions in sexual functioning and sexual satisfaction have been revealed as apparent in cancer survivors regardless of the cancer type experienced.(1)
The study from Western Sydney University, in partnership with Cancer Council NSW, shows that more than three quarters (77 per cent) of survivors of both reproductive and non-reproductive cancers indicated that their sexual activities had changed following treatment.(2)
A significant reduction in sexual frequency was observed across the cancer types, with over half of women (53 per cent) and 41 per cent of men reporting that sex occurred never or rarely after cancer.(3)
Further, almost half of cancer survivors rated their current sexual relationship as unsatisfying (48.8 per cent of women and 44.4 per cent of men).
Lead researcher, Professor Jane Ussher from Western Sydney University School of Medicine, said that while understandably, participants with a reproductive cancer type were more likely to report reductions in sexual functioning, frequency and satisfaction, these issues were also a significant problem for those with a non-reproductive cancer:
“Most research to date has focussed on cancers that directly affect the sexual or reproductive parts of the body, so it’s confronting to see the real impact that cancer can have on sexuality across the board.
“Sexual desire, arousal and orgasm were significantly reduced for both patients and partners. There was also no effect of time since diagnosis on reports of sexual changes, which shows us that sexual changes can be experienced at any stage of the cancer journey, and can be one of the most enduring negative consequences of cancer.
“This study shows the importance of health professionals acknowledging sexual changes and developing supportive interventions across the whole spectrum of cancer care. We found that people who talked about sexual changes with their partner were more likely to be sexually intimate after cancer, and that health professional information and support could facilitate such communication.”(4)
Cancer Council NSW, in a separate partnership with University of Sydney, has helped address these issues by developing a world-first online study – Rekindle – which launched in early 2015 and aims to improve the sexual wellbeing of all cancer survivors, and their partners.
Dr Haryana Dhillon, Rekindle Investigator, said that many of its participants were not aware that sexual changes are common after cancer, and they had never discussed the possible impact of cancer treatment on their sexual wellbeing with a health professional or their partner.
“Survivors are sometimes expected to bounce right back to normality after treatment, but as the new data shows this is not the reality for many people.
“Rekindle offers practical advice and teaches skills in a confidential environment to improve participants’ sexual wellbeing. This includes information on the side effects of treatment, overcoming fear and insecurity, how to communicate better with your partner to help you feel better about you and your relationships or practical advice on the use and availability of sex aids.
“Health and academic organisations must continue to work together to raise awareness of this issue, while providing both short and long-term interventions to support those whose sexuality has already been scarred by cancer, as well as aiming to help people earlier after diagnosis, before sexual and relationship problems become entrenched.”
[hr] For more information on Rekindle, visit www.rekindleonline.org.au. The full study from Professor Ussher and her team at Western Sydney University can be accessed at BioMed Central Cancer.
Source: Cancer Council NSW
1.Ussher et al, 2015, Perceived causes and consequences of sexual changes after cancer for women and men: a mixed method study, BMC Cancer, 15:268, 2-18 doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1243-8
2. The study surveyed 657 people with a range of reproductive and non-reproductive cancer types, and 148 partners, and examined the frequency and satisfaction of their sexual interactions.
3. Compared with 11.9 per cent of women and 13.1 per cent of men reporting this before the cancer was diagnosed
4. Perz, J., Ussher, JM., & Gilbert, E. (2014) Feeling well and talking about sex: Psycho-social predictors of sexual functioning after cancer. BMC Cancer 14:228-247. DOI:10.1186/1471-2407-14-228