A long-term study shows that sexual dysfunction is a major problem that does not fully subside after a type of stem cell therapy called hematopoietic cell transplantation, or HCT. This is true in both men and women. High-dose chemotherapy and HCT is often used for people who have life-threatening blood diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
"The prevalence and extent of sexual problems (after HCT) mandates that survivors be made aware of potential changes and given resources to address these needs," write researchers in the journal Blood.
"Survival without a sex life should not be what cancer survivors settle for or what health care professionals consider a successful outcome of cancer treatment," said Dr. Karen Syrjala, co-director of the Survivorship Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington.
"Sexual dysfunction in survivors of cancer needs to become a priority for research funding and a routine topic of discussion between doctors and their patients after cancer treatment," she added. Syrjala and colleagues had 161 patients complete an assessment of their sexual health before HCT and at several time points up to 5 years after HCT. All of them completed one or more surveys during the 5-year period.
At the 5-year mark, these assessments were compared against a matched control group made up of siblings, friends, and volunteers from the community.
The results showed that both men and women were having less sex 6 months after HCT than before, but, by 1 year, sexual activity for most of the men (74 percent) had recovered to pre-HCT levels.
For women, recovery of sexual activity took longer, with just over half (55 percent) returning to sexual activity after 2 years. For those who were sexually active 5 years after HCT, however, 46 percent of men and 80 percent of women said they had problems that disrupted sexual function.
Moreover, 5 years after HCT, the rates of sexual activity and level of sexual function were below those of the control group, suggesting that HCT recipients did not fully recover from the effects of the cancer itself or cancer treatments.
"One very positive aspect of this research," Syrjala told Reuters Health, "is that both men and women are more willing to discuss their (sexual) difficulties than they were a decade ago. This makes it possible for us to learn what men and women need and to find out what works to improve their sex lives."
SOURCE: Blood, online September 18, 2007.