Research finds cancer survivors suffer lower libidos long after treatmentSeptember 21st, 2015
A new study has found the sexual activities of more than three quarters of cancer survivors changed after treatment – even if their cancers didn’t affect reproductive organs.
The study examined the frequency and satisfaction of the sexual interactions of 657 people with a range of cancer types. 148 partners were also interviewed.
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.
In addition, 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).
The study, led by Professor Jane Ussher from Western Sydney University’s School of Medicine, was co-funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Australian Research Council, Cancer Council NSW, and Westmead Hospital.
Professor Ussher says participants with cancers of reproductive organs, such as breast and ovarian cancers, were more likely to report reductions in sexual functioning, frequency and satisfaction, but these issues were also significant for those with cancers of non-reproductive organs.
“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,” says Professor Ussher.
“We found that people who talked about sexual changes with their partner were more likely to be sexually intimate after cancer, and health professional information and support could facilitate such communication,” she says.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation actively supports research and awareness of the psychosocial impact of breast cancer, particularly in relation to intimacy and sexuality for both patients and their partners.
Professor Ussher is currently funded by NBCF for a project investigating how breast cancer and treatments affect fertility. The project will examine the nature and consequences of fertility concerns for men and women with cancer, and their partners, across a range of cancer types, as well as the knowledge and experience of health professionals. The aim is to increase knowledge of this important health concern, and lead to the development of programs to reduce distress.
In 2013, a series of rare interviews with male partners on their personal journeys in support of a loved one with breast cancer was published in a report called ‘Ending the silence’. This report was designed to identify and draw attention to their unmet needs and attract more research to support partners.