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Recently by Leslie Schover Ph.D.

older man and woman arms around each other-CW.JPGIn early April, the first guidelines on care for sexual problems were published by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

These guidelines are included in their new Survivorship Guidelines.

Since cancer survivorship begins as soon as someone receives a cancer diagnosis, the guidelines can improve care for both patients who are still planning their cancer treatment and those who are undergoing cancer treatment or have finished active therapy.

Sexual problems are common among cancer patients

Sexual problems are, unfortunately, a very common side effect of cancer treatment. Sexual problems affect at least half of patients who've had prostate, breast or a gynecologic cancer; they also can occur after chemotherapy or radiation to the pelvic area or brain.

The problems are usually caused by physical damage to the nerves, blood vessels and hormones involved in a normal sexual response, although emotional issues also play a role.

manoncomputer.jpgI have spent more than 30 years of my career trying to help cancer patients prevent or overcome sexual problems related to treatment. Although we better understand the causes of those problems, and have a few medical options to restore firm erections, most men still don't get accurate information when they need it.

To try to solve this situation, my research team has been working with a small business grant from the National Cancer Institute (and our small business partner Paul Martinetti, M.D., of Digital Science Technologies L.L.C.), to create a website that will provide education, self-help suggestions and advice on getting the best medical care for men's cancer-related sexual problems.

In creating the website, we interviewed 48 men of varying ages and ethnicities with different types of cancer. We asked them to review drafts of the website and report their experiences.

Alarming findings
The first, rather discouraging finding was that many men had never been given a chance to discuss this important part of life after cancer. Some valued the interview so much that they sent emails or called back to personally thank Evan Odensky, the senior behavioral research coordinator on our project.

Another common pattern was that men didn't realize how important a sexual problem could be until they experienced it. When they were planning their cancer treatment, 62% worried just a little or not at all that cancer treatment would damage their sex life.

Preserving sexual function was a major factor in choosing a treatment for only 13%. At the time of the interview, however, 79% of men rated their sexual function as moderately to very important.


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