Sexuality is an important part of a woman’s life. It involves feelings, thoughts, self-image, attractions and behaviours towards others, and includes sexual desire and function. Cancer and its treatments can unfortunately have a negative impact on a woman’s sexuality. For instance, nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy can cause discomfort and exhaustion which can in turn lead to a loss in sexual desire. One may also be less able to relax and enjoy sexual intimacy because of the emotional impact of hair loss and weight changes on her self-image.
Because the focus is usually on getting rid of cancer and coping with side effects, and because sexuality is a difficult topic for most people to bring up, this aspect is often overlooked. Not all patients’ experience will be similar, but for some people, it may result in a poorer quality of life.
What are the common problems?
Although sexuality-related problems can happen to both women and men, there are differences that need to be considered, beyond just the physical and anatomical differences of woman and man. As an example, women’s sexuality and its problems, are closely related to her psychological health and her relationship with her partner. Men in comparison, have their sexual health closely tied to their physical health and sexual function e.g. erections, ejaculations.
Some of the common sexuality-related problems faced by women include:
How it can be treated
Your doctor or nurse will give you advice depending on the problem experienced/anticipated and its cause. For instance, you will be taught on how to stretch your vaginal tissue to prevent narrowing of the vaginal walls, if you undergo radiation treatment over the area. If you experience decreased vaginal lubrication, your doctor or nurse may recommend you to use vaginal lubricants to increase comfort during intercourse. A referral to a sexual counsellor or therapist may be advised, if necessary. It is often hard to raise concerns regarding your sexuality to your loved ones and the healthcare team, but it is an important first step to getting better. If you are more comfortable raising this with another woman, speak to one of our female counsellors from the Department of Psychosocial Oncology. She can help connect you with the necessary services to help you overcome your sexual problems. You may also refer to the next section for some tips on what you can do to address specific concerns.
What you can do
Improve physical and emotional intimacy
Manage sexual activity concerns
Manage body image & emotional concerns
When to consult your cancer care team
Please inform your doctor or nurse if you feel that any sexuality-related issue is affecting your daily life, or if you experience any of the following:
If you are a patient with NCCS, you may also call
+65 6436 8417 or
+65 6436 8088 to book an appointment to speak to an NCCS medical social worker/ clinical psychologist.
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please call Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
here to download the PDF version of this article.
The above contents are made available as part of TEMASEK FOUNDATION-ACCESS (Accessible Cancer Care to Enable Support for Survivors) PROGRAMME, a holistic care programme to support cancer patients during their care and recovery journey.
The contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers. However, this information serves only as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. For specific medical conditions, please seek expert medical advice from your healthcare team.
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