Cancer treatment can cause early menopause, painful sex and flat-lined libido in women

August 1, 2013 4:16:33 PM PDT
As more people survive cancer, many are learning that sex after cancer is not the same. Few doctors warn patients that there often is a "sexual fallout" from chemotherapy and cancer treatments. Now M.D. Anderson has a new program that is helping patients with these rarely discussed problems.

Cynthia Cargill was a new mom just 31 with a one- and a three-year-old, when she was diagnosed with leukemia. She had no idea that the life-saving chemotherapy and radiation would send her into early menopause, painful sex and a flat-lined libido.

"That didn't even cross my mind. I was all about surviving, I was all about being there for my kids, being there for my husband," she said.

"The priority was get her through this," her husband, Reagan Cargill, said.

Cargill is not alone. M.D. Anderson researchers say 50 percent of women with breast or pelvic cancer will have a permanent sexual problem from the treatments.

"Radiation can cause changes in the vagina, changes in the reproductive organs that can make sex painful. And that's a huge problem," said Dr. Andrea Bradford who studies women's sexual health at M.D. Anderson.

Dr. Bradford says many patients are never warned this can happen. When problems surface, they're often too embarrassed to ask about it. But a new program called Wish at M.D. Anderson offers treatments.

"Our physicians can prescribe certain hormonal treatments that may benefit many women. We can provide a lot of education, as well as counseling," Bradford said.

Young women can now freeze their eggs before taking ovary-destroying cancer treatments and save their ability to have biological children later. But doctors don't always bring it up.

"Often patients say, 'I thought I was weird, I thought I was the only one. I didn't know this was so common,'" Bradford said.

The Cargill family just vacationed in Hawaii. It's been almost six years since Cargill's cancer. And they want people to know that life after cancer can be sweet, but that sometimes life after cancer means a "new normal."

"Ask questions, ask, ask, ask questions," Cargill said.

Cancer survivors can get more information can call 713-792-8340 or set up an appointment. You don't have to be an M.D. Anderson patient to make an appointment.

Find Christi on Facebook at ABC13-Christi Myers or on Twitter at @ChristiMyers13


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