In this CancerSmart segment moderated by Max Gomez of CBS, Memorial Sloan Kettering experts discuss how to prevent cancer treatment from taking a toll on sexual health and intimacy.
Women commonly experience sexual and vaginal health changes during and after cancer treatment. Whether you are facing physical consequences such as the loss of your period or emotional effects such as lack of interest in sexual activity, you are not alone.
Experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center are dedicated to supporting women as they adjust to changes during and after cancer treatment. During this challenging time, our female sexual medicine team is available to discuss the impact of treatment on you and your relationships. We can also provide education, strategies, and treatment for you to improve your physical and emotional health.
Common Side Effects for Women with Cancer
Natural menopause involves a gradual decline in a woman's hormone levels — typically over several years — followed by the end of menstruation. When a woman is treated for cancer, menopause can begin prematurely and abruptly. A progression that should take years to complete can occur in a matter of months.
Premature menopause due to cancer treatment can be caused by surgery to remove the ovaries, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone-blocking agents commonly taken by women who have certain types of breast cancer. Treatment-induced menopause can be temporary or permanent, depending on the type of treatment and your age when you receive it.
Cancer-related menopause can cause physical and emotional changes, says psychologist Jeanne Carter.
Every woman who goes through premature menopause is at risk for sexual and vaginal health complications. Symptoms are more intense and severe than those experienced during the natural process, and can include:
- Vaginal dryness, discomfort, and pain
- Difficulty with sexual arousal
- Pain during intercourse
These symptoms and the abrupt hormone changes of premature menopause can also have an emotional impact on women. You might experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, and loss, as well as a loss of interest in sexual contact.
Our female sexual medicine team is led by Jeanne Carter, a clinical psychologist and certified sexual therapist.
Dr. Carter will use a multidisciplinary approach to address your sexual and vaginal health challenges. During the initial evaluation, she will take a full medical history, discuss your concerns, and prepare a detailed treatment plan. Follow-up visits will be personalized to your specific physical and emotional needs.
A variety of options are available to help you manage the effects of cancer on your sexual health. Our experts will work with you to determine which strategies may benefit you. We provide:
- Education about female anatomy, vaginal health, and sexual health and intimacy
- Suggestions to enhance communication and intimacy with current or future partners
- Information about non-hormonal over-the-counter and prescription vaginal lubricants and moisturizers
- Treatments to address pain, including vaginal dilator therapy
- Referrals to physical therapists who can provide pelvic muscle (Kegel) exercises and therapies for problems with intercourse, incontinence, and pain
If you have sexual or vaginal health concerns related to cancer treatment, take action. Speak with someone on your medical team who can refer you to the Female Sexual Medicine and Women's Health Program. You can also contact us directly at 646-888-5076.
Services are provided at the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion and at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center.