October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and one aspect of the disease merits ever-greater awareness because it’s so commonly overlooked: sexual dysfunction after successful treatment. A major study recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that a startling 70 percent of breast-cancer survivors experienced difficulty having sex.
Sexual problems, often an unwelcome companion to cancer treatment, are typically triggered more by the treatment — chemotherapy, radiation, medication, full or partial mastectomy — than by the cancer itself. This can lead to problems with body image, decrease in libido, vaginal dryness, decrease in sexual stimulation and pain during intercourse. It’s therefore crucial that women overcome any understandable hesitation they might have about discussing sexual dysfunction with their physician: In many cases, help is just around the corner.
A team approach encompassing a variety of medical specialties is often necessary to combat the sexual side effects of cancer therapy.A combination of sexual and relationship counseling, physical therapy and the care of a physician with the correct tools and knowledge are essential. At Philadelphia Center for Sexual Medicine, we pride ourselves in being a leader in this field by offering a multitude of treatment options including the MonaLisa Touch laser — an innovative, highly effective device that combats vaginal dryness, sexual discomfort and even frequent urinary-tract infections. Its technology is similar to that of a fractional CO2laser, a tool dermatologists use to improve skin health and appearance. The MonaLisa Touch gently stimulates the tissue of the vaginal wall to boost its productivity and reverse the atrophy that’s often a side effect of cancer treatment.
A diagnosis of breast cancer is harrowing, and treatment is no less difficult to endure. Yet the disease and its aftermath need not be a termination notice for a woman’s sexual health and enjoyment. If you’re a cancer survivor and are experiencing any degree of dissatisfaction with your sex life, take action and mention it to your physician. Awareness cuts both ways, after all; knowledge about how to return to a normal life after treatment is no less vital than knowledge of the disease itself — a truism worth remembering not just this month but the rest of the year as well.