Sexual Health During Mesothelioma Treatment

When diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer will likely affect all aspects of a person’s life – including sexual health and intimacy.  For mesothelioma patients and their loved ones, this side effect can be very frustrating and hurt relationships at a time when you are already feeling bad about yourself and anxious about your health.  It is important for mesothelioma patients to realize that sexual problems as a result of mesothelioma and its treatment are common – and that there are solutions for dealing with these problems.

Possible Sexual Problems from Mesothelioma

 Sexual dysfunction is one of the most common problems faced by patients undergoing mesothelioma treatment.  While most are aware of sexual dysfunction in men as impotence, it can also occur in women as well.  With female sexual dysfunction, a woman’s vagina does not receive as much blood flow which diminishes stimulation.  The vagina also may not become adequately lubricated which can lead to tearing or pain during intercourse.

Other possible sexual side effects from mesothelioma and its treatments may include:

  • Low libido
  • Reduced stamina
  • Trouble climaxing

Patients should also be aware that some mesothelioma treatments may result in infertility.  For people diagnosed who still wish to have children, this can be devastating and take a toll on relationships.

The sexual problems in some cases are not the result of treatments but rather of poor body image connected to the disease. In other words, when you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s easy to feel inadequate or damaged. If you have surgery, there may be new scars making you feel unattractive. Low self-esteem is not conducive to intimate relationships.

Besides scars, other factors making a person feel unattractive is loss of an organ, weight gain due to drug therapies, hair loss and fatigue.1

What Causes Sexual Problems with Mesothelioma? 

There are numerous causes for each of the many sexual side effects which can occur with mesothelioma.  In many cases, the mesothelioma treatment is directly responsible for the side effects like sexual dysfunction or low libido.  Medications used to manage pain can also cause sexual side effects. However, there are many other reasons why patients may experience sexual problems.

Often, the depression, stress and anxiety caused by coping with mesothelioma can lead to intimacy problems.  As patients begin to experience appearance changes from the cancer, such as hair loss due to chemotherapy, they may also feel unattractive and avoid sexual intimacy.

Is Sexual Intimacy Safe with Mesothelioma? 

In some cases, it may not be safe for mesothelioma patients to engage in sexual activity, such as after surgery or if experiencing certain side effects like muscle weakness.  However, sexual intimacy is usually permitted and even encouraged for patients. Many doctors recommend that patients try to stick to their normal routines and activities – including sexually.  Sexual intimacy can help remove the psychological burdens of cancer.  For patients who are looking at grim prognoses, sexual intimacy provides a way of staying close with partners.

Coping with Sexual Problems 

Patients with an interest in sexual activity should not feel embarrassed about discussing any sexual or intimacy problems with their doctors. The more sexual dysfunction a person has the more likely he or she will discuss sexual problems.2 However, you don’t need to wait until you have serious dysfunction to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Oncologists commonly discuss these issues with their patients and they should be able to answer your questions and help provide solutions.

In some cases, there may be medications available for treating sexual side effects of mesothelioma treatment, such as PDE-5 inhibitors for erectile dysfunction.  Lubrications can help with vaginal dryness. If sexual problems are a result of psychological causes, then support groups or therapy can help patients overcome them.  When physical appearance changes are affecting intimacy, patients can boost their self esteem by purchasing new clothes or finding other ways to feel sexy.

The most important aspect of dealing with sexual problems related to cancer is for patients to be open with their partners. Patients and their loved ones must be prepared to make adjustments to their sex lives. In many cases, it may take some creativity to overcome sexual problems from cancer. Keep in mind that there are many ways to be sexually intimate.  If sexual activity is not possible, then patients can still keep intimacy by focusing on romance. You can still kiss and hug and be a loving couple.3

References 

1 Flynn, K. E., Jeffery, D. D., Keefe, F. J., Porter, L. S., Shelby, R. A., Fawzy, M. R., Gosselin, T. K., Reeve, B. B. and Weinfurt, K. P. (2011), Sexual functioning along the cancer continuum: focus group results from the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS®). Psycho-Oncology, 20: 378–386. doi: 10.1002/pon.1738

2 Flynn, K. E., Reese, J. B., Jeffery, D. D., Abernethy, A. P., Lin, L., Shelby, R. A., Porter, L. S., Dombeck, C. B. and Weinfurt, K. P. (2011), Patient experiences with communication about sex during and after treatment for cancer. Psycho-Oncology. doi: 10.1002/pon.1947

3 Body Changes and Intimacy – Talking With Your Partner. (2011)  Retrieved from The National Cancer Society at: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/life-after-treatment/page5#d2