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Women Don’t Get the Help They Want for Sexual Problems After Cancer Treatment

Article date: October 25, 2011

By Stacy Simon

Many women with breast or gynecological cancer want medical help for sexual problems after their treatment but aren’t getting it, researchers say.

A big reason for this is that women tend to be embarrassed about talking to their doctors about their sexual issues. Most of the time they aren’t asking their doctors for help, even though they want it.

A survey of more than 200 cancer survivors, published in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer, shows just how big the problem is. About 42% of women surveyed at a University of Chicago cancer clinic said they wanted medical care for sexual concerns, but only 7% had asked for the help. Previous studies show women really want the doctor to be the one to bring up the topic.

That doesn’t always happen, according to the study authors. Senior author of the study, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, says, “Physicians will often empathize with a patient’s concerns, but struggle with a lack of knowledge about how to help.”

This is true for gynecological cancers as well as breast cancers. Sixty-two percent of vaginal and cervical cancer survivors report that no doctor ever started a conversation with them about the sexual effects of their cancer or their treatment.

This is different from the way men very often learn about sexual side effects when they are treated for prostate cancer. Many doctors discuss sexual issues with men before, during and after treatment for prostate cancer. And the possibility of sexual side effects is often part of the process in deciding how to treat the cancer in the first place.

Sexual concerns of women after treatment for breast cancer and gynecological cancers range from physical problems like pain and dryness, to psychological problems that come from changes in body appearance. Cancer survivors often struggle with body-image concerns, and don’t feel attractive or feminine after treatment. These problems can strain relationships, cause worry and stress, and make many women feel ashamed, guilty or alone.

It is understandable that you may be embarrassed to talk to your doctor about any sexual problems you have after cancer treatments. But if you don’t, you may never get the information that can help you. You can read about some common sexual issues for women with cancer in our document Sexuality for the Woman with Cancer or by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

Citation: Assessing gynecologic and breast cancer survivors' sexual health care needs. Published in the June 15, 2011 issue of Cancer (Vol. 117, No. 12). First author: Emily K. Hill, MD, University of Chicago.

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