Asking Your Doctor How Mesothelioma Affects Your Sex Life

A Couple Lying in Bed Together

Not everybody is comfortable talking about sex, especially mesothelioma patients who have more pressing and life-threatening concerns on their minds.

But should the topic of sex be equally important to these cancer patients?

Of course.

In the 18 years working as a psychotherapist with cancer patients and their partners, I’ve found couples are eager to learn all they can about having sex safely and comfortably during and after treatment.

Couples want to understand how cancer and its treatments affect their sex drive (also known as libido) and ability to continue enjoying sex as they had before the diagnosis. They also need advice from doctors or other health care professionals about ways to improve their sexual intimacy if cancer decreased their libido or negatively impacted sexual functions.

Mesothelioma patients usually can have sex safely during and after their treatment, but need some information from their doctors to guide them and better understand how treatment affects sexual desire and function.

But raising the issue of sex can be difficult for patient and doctor.

Comfort Levels of Patients and Doctors

Mesothelioma patients often indicate they want to talk about sex with their oncologists, but are reluctant to raise the issue.

Their hesitancy is based on the assumption that oncologist conversations should focus only on pertinent topics like cancer survival, not their sex lives.

A 2009 study published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology shows the comfort levels of discussing the impact of cancer on a patient’s sex life vary among doctors and other health care professionals.

“Health professionals may also believe their discussions [about sex] may be construed as disrespectful and inappropriate by the patient, with research suggesting that gender, age, culture socioeconomic factors and religion all contribute to health professionals’ avoidance of the topic,” the study shows.

Most physicians wait until their patients raise the question of sex and cancer.

It’s easy to see how concerns about sex may go unaddressed when patients and physicians are unwilling to engage in an open dialogue on the topic.

Regardless of whether your physicians initiate the conversation, be brave and raise your concerns during your doctor visits. It’s important because many newly diagnosed patients and their partners are unaware of the safety issues involving sex, cancer and treatment.

Questions to ask your doctor about sex and mesothelioma:

  • How soon after surgery or a procedure can I have sex?
  • Do I need to take any precautions during intercourse while I am on chemotherapy?
  • Are there any precautions after I’ve completed my chemotherapy?
  • How will treatment affect my energy levels, libido or both?
  • How will treatment affect my fertility?
  • Will I be able to have children after I finish treatment?
  • Is oral sex safe during treatment?
  • Have other patients receiving the same treatment reported side effects that impact sex?
  • How will treatment affect my hormone levels?
  • Is it safe for me to physically exert myself during sex while I am on treatment?
  • Can I take medications for erectile dysfunction during my treatment?

Sex Can Return Sense of Normalcy

So many things do not feel normal when you or a loved one battles mesothelioma.

The ability to safely and comfortably engage in sex during treatment may help couples gain some sense of normalcy. It can also improve a couple’s quality of life during a stressful and frightening time.

It may take some courage to raise concerns and questions about sex to your doctor if you are not usually comfortable talking about your sexuality. But most patients find the payoff in having those discussions is well worth the effort.

This post is the first installment of an occasional series about mesothelioma and sexual intimacy.

  1. Hordern, A. et al. (2009). Discussing sexuality in the clinical setting: The impact of a brief training program for oncology health professionals to enhance communication about sexuality. Retrieved from http://www.icisg.org/ci_sexuality.pdf

Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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