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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Let's talk about sex, doctor

20th May 2009

Three quarters of cancer patients say that the disease has affected their sex lives, according to a new survey by Macmillan Cancer Support, yet only a third of them said they had been spoken to about the issue by a health professional.

To combat this problem, the charity is launching a new campaign providing support to health professionals and urging them to speak to patients about the impact of cancer on sexual relationships.

Stuart Danskin, senior cancer information nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We know that cancer can leave people’s confidence shattered, body image low and make it psychologically or physically difficult to have sex at all. It is clear that some health professionals are very good at addressing these issues, but sadly our research shows that many still don’t.

“Treating the medical symptoms of cancer is just part of the problem.  Although it is very important to them, many people are too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask about the impact of the disease on their sexual relationships. This is why it is so important for health professionals to take the initiative and raise the issue.”

Macmillan is providing new resources, including videos, on its website, to help health professionals talk to patients about sex and cancer at www.learnzone.macmillan.org.uk

Macmillan’s new survey also found that:

  • A third of those who said cancer had affected their sexual relationships said they felt unable to talk to their partner about it
  • One in seven even said they separated permanently as a result of the cancer’s impact, and
  • Half of those who are single said they were put off starting a new relationship.

Macmillan wants to see health professionals across the UK directing patients to information and support services about sexual dysfunction and cancer.  We want health authorities to do more to commission further cancer-specific sexual rehabilitation services (e.g. psychosexual counsellors, sexual therapists), in line with NICE guidance (or equivalent guidance in Scotland).

With two million people living with cancer, many are trying to cope with long term effects including the impact on their sexual relationship.

Breast cancer patient Gietta Gudge, who is backing the campaign said: “I know from my own experience of breast cancer how much the disease can affect a couple’s relationship.  Trying to keep our sex life active was one of the worst things I had to go through. I had no idea that my body would dry up and that we would have so many rows as a couple.  My health professionals were amazing when talking to me about the medical side of my treatment, but if we had also known early on about the impact cancer would have on our sexual relationship it would have been easier to cope.”

Stuart Danskin added: “Although our understandable emphasis behind treatment is to cure, treat and control, cancer may create many problems for people across their whole lives. Sex and sexuality is no exception to this. We hope by talking to people about these issues as part of the campaign we will do this.”




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