Cancer and its treatment can have a range of effects on sexuality. The most obvious impacts are physical, like not being able to have or enjoy sex. Some types of cancer require treatment that can directly affect the physical ability to have sex or to enjoy it. More generally, many cancer treatments have side effects that may interfere with sexual pleasure.
Any type of cancer experience can also influence your body image, emotions and relationships, all of which can change how you feel about sex. A number of services, including sexuality and intimacy counselling services, can help to explore and manage these issues.
Read more about sexuality, intimacy and cancer
Talking about sexuality and intimacy
Sex is a private matter and many people, including health professionals, may feel uncomfortable discussing sexual concerns. You might assume that the doctor will bring up the subject, but this doesn’t always happen. Or you might think there is no point because you don’t realise that there are treatment options available. Sometimes your doctor may not be able to offer you the time and privacy needed for a sensitive discussion. These reasons may mean that the topic is overlooked.
There are ways to improve sex and sexuality if you share your concerns with your treatment team. Some health professionals may not know the answer but can direct you to other health professionals who can help.
If you are same-sex attracted or transgender and feel that your health professional is uncomfortable talking about your sexual practices, you can ask for a referral to someone else. The following websites are also useful to find health professionals that provide an inclusive and safe setting for the LGBTIQ+ community:
Questions to ask about this service
When looking at a service it is important to ask questions about how the service works before you decide to engage with them. Below is a list of questions you might like to ask when enquiring about a service.
Am I eligible?
Some services have specific criteria that a person must meet before they are able to use a service, for example location, means testing or a specific cancer type. It is important to know if you are eligible to access a service right from the start.
Do I need a referral?
Some services require a referral from your specialist, GP or a social worker. This helps to make sure that the right patients are being connected with the right services. It’s a good idea to ask if a referral is needed and if so, exactly what type of referral the service requires.
How much will this cost me?
Some services are free, and some come at a cost. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, the cost of cancer can be a source of stress and worry for many. It’s a good idea to ask about the fees attached to a service and if there are any subsidies or benefits you might be eligible for before committing to the service. It’s important to know that you are within your rights to ask about the cost of a service or treatment before agreeing to take part. For more information you can visit cancer and your finances.
Is there a wait time?
Sometimes demand for a service is high which can cause wait times. You might find it helpful to ask if there are any wait times for the services you are looking at, especially if you require support as soon as possible.
What services do you offer?
Some organisations provide a range of services for people affected by cancer, their family, friends and carers. It is a good idea to ask about exactly what services are available to you.
Health professionals you might see
When you visit a service there are a range of health professionals you may see. There could also be other health professionals you see at this service that are not included below.
Cancer care coordinator
A health professional who coordinates your care, liaises with the range of health professionals involved in your treatment, and supports you and your family throughout your cancer experience Care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant.
Provides exercises to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder and bowel control.
Counsellors can listen to what is going on in your life and offer strategies for dealing with issues you are facing. They do not need to have any qualifications to practise, although many do, so it’s a good idea to check before making an appointment.
General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor
Assists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care.
Administers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment.
Assists in adapting your living and working environment to help you resume usual activities during and after treatment.
These allied health professionals have completed at least a four-year university degree. They focus on physical rehabilitation and prevention and treatment of injuries using a variety of techniques, including exercise, massage and joint manipulation.
Psychologists use evidence-based strategies to help you manage emotional conditions, usually in the long term. A registered psychologist must complete four years of psychology at undergraduate level, followed by either postgraduate studies in clinical or health psychology or two years of supervised clinical practice.
Sexual health physician or sex therapist
Can help you, or you and your partner, with sexuality concerns before and after treatment.
Links you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues.
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