Painful sex is common in women after cancer treatment, but too often ignored

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According to a recent study, painful sex in women after cancer treatment is relatively common. It is often treatable and needs to be addressed by medical providers.

Researchers from UC Davis suggest that with improved diagnosis and treatment and higher rates of survival after cancer, more and more women are living with the long-term effects of treatment, including those that affect their sex lives.

Despite the frequency of these problems, even gynecologists find it difficult to discuss the topic with their patients.

This is because of the discomfort of discussing the subject and because researchers often feel ill-equipped to assess the problem and offer solutions.

To fill this gap, the researchers have written an extensive review article, titled “Sexual health in women affected by cancer: Focus on sexual pain.”

The paper, published recently in Obstetrics & Gynecology, highlights various causes of painful sex in women after cancer.

The causes include factors related to surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy. The review provides guidance on medical evaluation, physical exams and treatment options.

Guidelines from leading cancer organizations recommend that medical providers routinely address sexual health during and after cancer treatment, but this remains an area of wellbeing too often overlooked.

The researchers suggested that it might be due to the inclusion of sexual pain in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual as a type of female sexual dysfunction and therefore a mental disorder.

Although the association recently revised the language to exclude women with sexual pain related to “another medical condition,” this historical perspective has led health care providers to consider it as something without physical cause and without treatment options.

The most common cause of sexual pain in women with cancer is low estrogen levels, which, in fact, has a physical basis and typically results from hormonal therapy, ovary removal or radiation to the pelvic region.

Women find it hard to bring up difficulties in their sexual life and would prefer that their doctors ask about it.

The article addresses ways for doctors to open and continue a discussion, and provides a sexual-symptom checklist to help assess problems.

In response to the need for better care for the sexual health for women with cancer or who have had cancer, the researchers has established a clinic at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted to the issue.

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Citation: Deborah C, Vanessa K. (2016). Sexual health in women affected by cancer: Focus on sexual pain. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 128: 775-791. DOI: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000001621.
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