Cancer survivors’ sex lives as good as others their age

Cancer Research UK

Cancer survivors have just as much sex and can function as well as others their age, according to a Cancer Research UK funded study published in the journal Cancer today.

“Although some cancer treatments are known to impact on sexual function, this study suggests that the majority of cancer patients have similar sexual function and activity as the general population." - Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse

The survey compared the sex lives and worries of more than 6,500 over-50s, including 560 cancer patients.

It found that around half of all those surveyed had sex regularly*.

And the reported sexual problems were similar in both cancer survivors and those who hadn’t had the disease. For example, around a third of all women said they had problems becoming aroused (31 per cent of cancer patients, compared with 32 per cent of others) and 40 per cent of all men had erectile dysfunction (40 per cent of cancer patients compared with 39 per cent of others).

But, despite similar levels of sexual activity and function, almost a fifth of female cancer survivors (18 per cent) and almost a third of male survivors (31 per cent) reported feeling dissatisfied by their sex lives. This compared with more than a tenth of women (12 per cent) and a fifth of males (20 per cent) of the same age who had not had cancer.

And one in ten female cancer survivors worried about their libido, compared with seven per cent of those who hadn’t had cancer.

Dr Sarah Jackson, study author and psychologist at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre, said: “We hope our findings will put cancer survivors’ concerns to rest – showing that they are just as sexually active and function just as well as others their age.

“Half of patients diagnosed with cancer in the UK will survive their disease for at least 10 years, so it’s important we understand factors like this that affect survivors’ quality of life. The next stage of our research will look at why cancer patients feel less satisfied with their sex lives.”

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “Although some cancer treatments are known to impact on sexual function, this study suggests that the majority of cancer patients have similar sexual function and activity as the general population.

“However, cancer patients in the study were more likely to be dissatisfied with their sex lives even though they didn’t report a higher incidence of sexual dysfunction – like erectile problems in men. This highlights the need for health professionals to make sure they talk about sex with all patients not just the ones whose sexual function is likely to be affected by their cancer or its treatment.

“If you are worried following a cancer diagnosis you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040 or visit www.cancerhelp.org.uk.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on +44 203 469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on +44 7050 264 059.

References

Jackson, S., Wardle, J., Steptoe, A., & Fisher, A. (2016). Sexuality after a cancer diagnosis: A population-based study Cancer DOI: 10.1002/cncr.30263

Notes to Editor

* Of the women, 49 per cent of cancer survivors and 50 per cent of others had frequent sex. In men, 49 per cent of cancer survivors and 48 per cent of others had sex frequently.

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