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Researchers Study How Cancer Affects Sexuality

Researchers Study How Cancer Affects Sexuality

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingMany women diagnosed with breast cancer worry about how their disease may affect their sexuality. For the first time, researchers examined how advanced breast cancer affects a couple's intimate relationship.

Stefanie Spielman says it was the love and support of her family that helped her through the first round of breast cancer. Then her cancer came back, and spread to her lungs. She didn't know how a second round of treatments would impact her sexuality, but she quickly found out.

Stefanie Spielman: “With his reassuring words and his caring, he made me feel confident again, and just reassured me to let me know he loves me for more than my physicalness, and that gave me the confidence to be open.”

Breast cancer treatment can drastically affect a woman's sexuality. Patients may lose one or both breasts through surgery; radiation can create fatigue; and chemotherapy can lead to hair loss, vaginal dryness and premature menopause.

Earlier studies show sexual activity and satisfaction decline following an initial diagnosis of breast cancer. But does it plummet further when the cancer metastasizes or spreads?

Stefanie Spielman: "We literally knew next to nothing about the patterns of sexual behavior and relationship satisfaction after breast cancer recurrence."

Now they do. Researchers at Ohio State's comprehensive cancer center are among the first to examine this issue. They studied dozens of couples by keeping track of how often they kissed or had sex, and how satisfied they felt throughout, and compared them to couples who had not had a recurrence. They were surprised to find very little difference between the groups.

Dr. Charles Shapiro, Oncologist & Researcher: “This is a message to us as health care providers that life goes on. Life doesn’t stop or alter radically just because of a recurrence.”

It's also a message to cancer patients who face another bout with cancer, that for all the changes that might occur with their bodies, their relationships don't have to change at all.

Since women diagnosed with breast cancer are living longer, quality of life issues, such as their sexuality or fertility, have become more important.

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