womens health

Addressing Sexual Dysfunction as a Common but Often Overlooked Side-Effect of Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, there were an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 48,530 deaths from breast cancer in 2020 alone. While early detection and treatment have improved survival rates for women with breast cancer, it can come at a cost.

One often overlooked side-effect of breast cancer treatment is sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction refers to problems that occur during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevent an individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from sexual activity. These problems may include lack of desire (libido), difficulty becoming aroused or maintaining arousal, inability to achieve orgasm, and pain during intercourse.

Studies show that up to two-thirds of women who undergo breast cancer treatment experience some form of sexual dysfunction. The causes are multifactorial and can be attributed to hormonal changes caused by chemotherapy or hormone therapy; surgery-related physical changes such as scarring or loss of sensation; psychological factors such as anxiety or depression; and relationship issues.

Despite its prevalence, many healthcare providers fail to address this issue with their patients due to discomfort discussing sexuality or lack of knowledge about available treatments. This leaves many women feeling isolated and distressed over their diminished quality-of-life post-treatment.

However, there are several interventions available for managing sexual dysfunction related to breast cancer treatment:

1) Counseling: Patients should be encouraged to discuss their concerns with healthcare providers trained in addressing sexual health issues after cancer diagnosis.

2) Hormonal Therapy: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help alleviate vaginal dryness associated with menopause induced by chemotherapy.

3) Medication: Oral medications like sildenafil citrate (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil hydrochloride (Levitra), topical estrogen cream applied locally on vagina etc., may improve sexual arousal and function.

4) Lubrication: Water-based lubricants can be used to alleviate vaginal dryness, making intercourse less painful.

It is essential that healthcare providers take a proactive approach in addressing this issue with their patients. By doing so, they can help improve the quality of life for women who have undergone breast cancer treatment.

Future Advances

Researchers are currently exploring new treatments for sexual dysfunction related to breast cancer treatment. One such promising development is the use of stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to differentiate into various cell types, including those found in genital tissue.

In a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers injected autologous adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) into the clitoral area of women who had undergone surgical menopause after breast cancer treatment. After six months, participants reported significant improvement in both desire and satisfaction during sexual activity compared to placebo groups.

Another potential breakthrough involves using virtual reality therapy as an adjunctive tool for treating post-treatment distress among couples experiencing sexual dysfunction due to breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent therapies. This therapy aims at reducing anxiety through immersive experiences that simulate intimacy between partners without physical contact or stimulation.

Conclusion

Sexual dysfunction is a common but often overlooked side-effect of breast cancer treatment. It affects many aspects of patients’ lives beyond just physical discomfort during sex; it also impacts mental health, relationships with partners/family members/peers etc., social functioning etc., which may lead them towards depression & anxiety disorders if left untreated or unmanaged properly by healthcare professionals trained on dealing with these issues effectively.

However, there are several interventions available today like counseling sessions with experts trained on handling these concerns; hormonal replacement therapies; medications like sildenafil citrate/vardenafil hydrochloride/tadalafil/topical estrogen cream/lubricants etc.; all aimed at improving sexual arousal/functioning while reducing pain/discomfort associated with intercourse.

Moreover, researchers are exploring new treatments like stem cell therapies or virtual reality therapy to address this issue further. It is essential that healthcare providers take a proactive approach in addressing sexual dysfunction with their patients after breast cancer treatment, as it can significantly impact their quality of life.

*Note: this site does not provide medical opinions or diagnosis and should not be relied upon instead of receiving medical attention from a licensed medical professional.

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1WH staff