The emotions patients experience after cancer treatment can include anger, sadness and fear. They may worry about their body or disappointing their partner. It is important to remind them that there are many ways to have sexual pleasure, encourage them to talk with their partner about their feelings, and remind them that some sexual changes are short term.
Starting the Conversation
Patients with a recent cancer diagnosis are waiting for their doctor to say something about sexuality. They may feel uncomfortable bringing it up, thinking “Shouldn’t I be focused right now on surviving, not my sexuality?”
However, questions about the impact of cancer treatment on their sexuality can be top of mind for them and their partner. Practitioners can help by broaching the subject with patients either alone and or with their partner. Another option is to offer brochures or internet links with information to get the conversation started.
How is Sexuality Altered by Cancer?
Research reveals that 60% of women’s cancer diagnosis alters their sexuality. For men, about 80% are affected. Their sexuality is impacted by their cancer diagnosis regardless of whether it is a reproctive cancer or not.
Sometimes, cancer treatment will throw women into a pre-menopausal or post-menopausal state. They may have to adjust to a new body shape, body size and how flexible they are. Their threshold for pain may also be affected.
Along with these physical changes, women report a change in their satisfaction and desire.
Progesterone to Estrogen Ratio
Progesterone and estrogen are the two most important hormones in the female body. These are steroid hormones that are responsible for various female characteristics in the body. Progesterone stimulates normal sex drive because it can be converted to testosterone which is involved in male and female sex drive.
With some cancer treatment progesterone flatlines. As a result, estrogen can become dominant even during peri-menopause. When estrogen becomes dominant, the outcome can stimulate cancer cells that affect the breast, uterus and ovaries.
It's important to know whether you are dealing with an estrogen receptor-positive cancer or whether the cancer is progesterone and or testosterone receptor driven.
To stimulate progesterone production, whether to balance estrogen/progesterone hormone levels or to stimulate desire, herbs such as False Unicorn Root and Wild Yam can be used.
Breathing exercises, as well as exercise, can lower stress levels which can lead to higher progesterone levels and a lower risk of cancers proliferating.
Managing Sexual Activity
Women who are going through cancer treatment report increased fatigue. Patients have a certain amount of energy per day, and so must be mindful about how they spend that energy.
Making time for sexual activity and saving energy for the encounter results in better outcomes. It is wise to schedule times to be intimate and not rely on “spontaneous combustion”.
Couples should let go of “the race to orgasm” as often the patient may not have the energy reserves to achieve climax. Rather, practitioners must encourage couples to
focus on connection and intimacy.
Flirting can start days in advance of sexual activity. Flirting is all about body language and verbal communication. By exploring flirting and sexy talk, couples can discover new levels of intimacy. By widening concepts of sexual play, couples can enjoy a life-affirming sexuality that moves beyond physical intercourse.
Couples report that simply sitting and holding someone's hand while looking into their eyes with no words spoken can also be most intimate.
Sexuality at End of Life
For some patients, sexuality may be an important aspect of their end-of-life care. Indeed, orgasms, because of triggers in the pineal gland, can actually reduce pain levels.
Even in the absence of intercourse or orgasm, physical contact with one’s partner can be very comforting. If the patient is in palliative care or a hospice, it's important to allow for privacy for the couple to experience intimate contact if they desire it.
In the case of LGBTQ couples, research reveals that only about 5% of partners are given appropriate support. In some cases, partners have been denied access because they do not conform to institutional standards for marriage or family partnerships. Thankfully this is changing.
“Herbs like ginseng and licorice and some of the other adaptogenic botanicals support core vitality and adrenal function. Because it's the adrenal glands the body is leaning on to create a backup supply of reproductive hormones.”
Dr Judith Boice
“One of the things I encourage patients to do, particularly during their cancer treatment, is to think about having a teacup full of energy. They have a set amount of energy per day. And they need to be really mindful about how they spend it.”
Dr Judith Boice
The opinions expressed in this Nutramedica program are those of the guests and contributors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Nutritional Fundamentals For Health Inc.
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