Surviving Cancer

Effects on Intimacy

For many older adults, intimacy remains an important need. Cancer and cancer treatment can have a major impact on intimacy and sexual function. For example, more than 60 percent of prostate cancer survivors are 65 years of age and older. Research has indicated that sexual impairment may affect 60 to 80 percent of these men, depending on the type of therapy they received.

Physical and Emotional Issues

For both men and women, some side effects of cancer treatment may inhibit intimacy. Problems are often caused by physical changes, such as erectile dysfunction or incontinence which can occur after prostate surgery. Other problems are due to emotional issues such as changes in body image because of scarring or the loss of a breast.

Other emotional issues including depression, anxiety, and stress between you and your partner can play a role. Factors associated with other medical conditions such as pain or certain medications also may contribute. All of these issues can contribute to lack of desire or loss of interest in intimate activities.

Possible Treatments

Often, sexual problems will not get better on their own, so it is important to talk with your doctor. He or she can suggest a treatment depending on the type of problem and its cause. A variety of things may help, including

  • medications
  • devices
  • surgery
  • exercises to strengthen genital muscles
  • or counseling.

Talking to your partner about your fears and needs, and listening to his or her concerns, can be an important first step to recovering a sense of intimacy.

Learn more about changes in your sex life after cancer treatment.