Sex and Cancer
I am always pleased when I see a good article about sex/intimacy because I know it can be used to write a blog that likely will be of interest. As many of you know, this is a common topic of conversation in my office--both in groups and individual sessions. The first reaction for many women is relief that their experience is normal and expected--which surely does not mean that they are happy about the reduction or loss of libido and responsiveness that almost always accompany chemotherapy. The issues around intimacy after breast cancer surgery are a bit different. Losing or even changing a breast is a huge psychological hit, and most women and their partners have to find their way back to comfort with touch and sight with the physical changes. There is also the period of weeks or longer after surgery when pain is a real concern, and many partners are afraid to come too close.
Chemotherapy, however, is a whole other problem. Many women experience immediate premature menopause and the resulting problems of vaginal dryness, perhaps pain with intercourse, and even vaginal atropy (and how is that for an unpleasant name of a genuinely difficult problem--a quick way to be made to feel at least 80 years ago). Yes, it helps to learn that you have plenty of company with the problems, but it would help more if there were more helpful strategies and treatments available. Many oncologists never talk about sex with their patients, so many women are left feeling very alone and ashamed.
But now ABC News is noticing! Here is the beginning and a link:
Sex and Cancer -- Breaking the Taboo
Chemotherapy, Radiation Can Wreak Havoc on the Systems That Underlie Pleasurable Sex
By KARIN HALPERIN
June 25, 2013 —
Shortly after Kristen Howard's wedding in August 2011, a ball began to form in the back of her throat that proved difficult to diagnose.
"Some doctors thought it was a tonsil infection. My primary care physician thought it was post-nasal drip," said Howard, 31. By the time she got the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma -- a cancer of the lymph nodes -- the ball had grown so large it impeded her ability to eat, talk and, to some extent, breathe.
Six rounds of chemotherapy over five months followed. "I lost my eyelashes, I lost my eyebrows," said Howard, who runs a longboard skateboard shop with her husband in New York's West Village. "But the hair on my head was the least of my concerns."
Much more troubling were the side effects Howard said her doctors never mentioned: pain during sex and a flatlined libido.
"This was something I was totally clueless on," said Howard. "It took me a really long time ... to realize that the sexual side effects I was having had anything to do with chemo. I just sort of assumed it was more psychological, more mental than anything else."
Howard's experience brings home a question many women patients wish their oncologists would ask more often: How's your sex life? The question would at least open a conversation on what cancer patients and experts say is a neglected area: the sexual fallout of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.