Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest Blog: Sexuality and Cancer

By Reanne Booker, Nurse Practitioner, MN BScN
Thank you to Reanne Booker for writing today's guest blog in honour of Daffodil Day.

There is nothing sexy about cancer. I suppose it should then come as no surprise that sex is not always the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about cancer. However, for individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer, sexuality is often profoundly affected and the subsequent impact on quality of life can be devastating.
Altered sexuality is a seemingly ubiquitous consequence of cancer and its treatment. Often, the cancer itself can directly affect sexuality by impairing function of the parts of the body involved in sexual activity or by altering hormone production that in turn, affects how the sex organs function.  In addition, the various modalities of treatment - surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy - can all affect sexual function. Examples of sexual dysfunction include decreased interest or desire, difficulties achieving or maintaining erections, inability to ejaculate or ejaculation into the bladder, inability to achieve orgasm, painful intercourse and ovarian failure. Further, the cancer and its treatment may induce side effects such as fatigue, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea or neuropathy that may contribute to impaired sexual function. An array of psychological factors, such as body image, self-esteem, altered mood, depression, anxiety, perceived lack of control and fear may contribute to altered sexual function and sexuality. Fertility may be temporarily or permanently affected by cancer or its treatment.
I have been continually reminded that sexuality is an integral part of quality of life and is a fundamental component of what it means to be a human being. Intimacy – physical, emotional or otherwise – connects us one another. Sexuality, therefore, may be as important to an 87 year-old as it is to an 18 year-old.
I have heard that at times, sex may take a back seat to matters concerning life and death but I have also been told that for some, it is during those very moments that intimacy becomes even more important. It also bears mentioning that there are millions of cancer survivors throughout the world and while many of the effects of cancer and its treatment fade with time, changes in sexuality may linger for many years beyond the completion of treatment.
For individuals who have experienced changes in sexuality following a cancer diagnosis and their partners or spouses, support is available. Talk to your health care provider if you would like more information.


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