Madrid, November 26, 2021.- A cancer diagnosis and treatment affects the quality of life of cancer patients, both physically and emotionally. This includes their sexuality and sex life, so having specialists in the field can be of great help when dealing with the side effects of treatments like changes in one’s body image, decreased hormone levels or a loss of sexual desire, states Dr. Maria Fernandez Chereguini, of the Gynecologic Oncology Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid.
According to the specialist, sexual relations have beneficial effects for cancer patients which can counteract the side effects of the disease. "Sex has many benefits for everyone's health, and the same applies to patients undergoing treatment for cancer," she points out, while explaining that it provides an increased sense of well-being through endorphins, chemical substances secreted by the brain and the central nervous system, which, when released, spread through the body in the blood, causing a feeling of well-being, pleasure, euphoria and happiness.
Furthermore, "sexual intercourse helps control pain due to its analgesic effect and helps you have a better night's rest, which will help the patient recover better," explains Dr. Fernandez Chereguini.
In cancer patients, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy can all cause side effects like fatigue, hair loss, oral problems involving the tongue and throat like ulcers, or canker sores, and pain swallowing, in addition to changes in weight, difficulty concentrating, mood swings and changes in sexual function. In the case of women, and as explained by the doctor, "there may be a decrease or even failure in the function of the ovaries and, as a result, early menopause, which entails a relatively abrupt fall in hormone levels, which has negative effects on vaginal health (increased dryness, loss of vaginal tone or less lubrication); in the body (changes in body shape, loss of firmness or weight gain), and effects at an emotional level that can contribute to the loss of libido or sexual desire”.
In the case of surgery, women can suffer body changes like scarring, both abdominal and on the breasts in the case of mastectomies, which may also lead to problems affecting their sex life. "Difficulty reaching orgasm, a distorted perception of their body and a feeling of being mutilated are some of these problems," explains the gynecologist.
Therefore, psychological care can be of great help in improving communication with family, friends and the medical team. Although it is true that the patient may initially reject this support, “with time, they assimilate and accept what is happening to them, which very much depends on the prognosis of the disease and the personality type of each woman. The support of their partner, family, medical team or specialists in sexuality can be of great help at these moments”.
And it is that the sexuality of cancer patients is not only altered by the side effects of the treatments, but the diagnosis itself has a very significant emotional impact on the person affected and those around them. “When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, many concerns arise regarding how her life is going to change in the personal, work, family and relationship aspects. At this point, it is important to seek the support of their partner, since that affection, support and physical and emotional proximity are important and necessary”, explains the doctor.
On the part of the medical team, after establishing the diagnosis, it is important that the patient feels accompanied and that all their questions are answered. Although, while initially their concern focuses on the treatment and cure rates, with time, other concerns, like their sexuality and sex life become more important.
"For that reason, we must fully inform the patient of the changes that may take place physically and psychologically in addition to their treatment options, and she will, therefore, be prepared to identify and deal with them," says the doctor, going on to say that "any delay in addressing the issue leads to many problems becoming chronic and makes their subsequent management more difficult".