Learning About Sexual Health After Cancer
Madison, Wisconsin - At least 40 percent of women experience sexual dysfunction following cancer treatment. Until recently, they have found few resources to help them deal with changes to this important part of their lives.
At the UW Carbone Cancer Center, experts in treating gynecologic cancers have been working to change that. Oncologist David Kushner, MD and Lori Seaborne, PAC, have been collaborating to develop programs and training that will help cancer survivors address the sensitive, often misunderstood issues surrounding cancer and sexuality.
According to Seaborne, women sometimes approach the topic themselves; sometimes they wait to be asked. To help them with what she describes as "something most people do, but few people talk about," she enlisted the input of other UW Carbone Cancer Center physician assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners, and the UW Hospital and Clinics chaplain. From those discussions came a free 90-minute informational session held monthly for women who have questions about how cancer might affect their sexuality.
One theme of the talk is an overview of the links between sexual health and other components of identity, such as spiritual well-being.
"Cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally draining," Seaborne explains. "The toll can result in a change in body image and an impact on a woman’s sense of self-esteem."
Addressing sexuality in the context of the whole being, she adds, can both alleviate such fears and allow a woman to heal herself.
Communication is often another barrier.
"Many women are uncomfortable openly communicating with their partner about sex," notes Seaborne, "and the changes a woman goes through after treatment can make it even more difficult."
To address these issues, the seminar suggests ways survivors can talk to their partners in a safe and comfortable manner.
"Women can discuss their concerns calmly and without blame," adds Seaborne, "any fears can be addressed openly and honestly."
"Life after cancer can be drastically different for many women," she says. "Knowing that sexuality is a vital component of a woman's identity, it is our responsibility as caregivers to provide accurate information in a safe, welcoming environment."
Date Published: 10/15/2012