How Lymphatic Cancer Can Be a Barrier in Your Sexual Health?

Let's talk sex

Sex may permeate our popular culture, but conversations about it are still associated with stigma and shame in Indian households. As a result, many people dealing with sexual health issues or trying to find information about sex often turn to unverified online sources or follow the unscientific advice of their friends.

To address widespread misinformation about sex, is running a weekly sex column titled ‘Let’s Talk Sex’. Through this column we hope to start conversations about sex and address sexual health issues with scientific insight and nuance.

The column was written by sexologist Professor (Dr) Saransh Jain. In this article, Dr. Jain explains how lymphoma treatment affects your sexual health and how to deal with it.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. It develops in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. These cells play an important role in fighting disease in the body and in the body’s immune defenses. Because this type of cancer is in the lymphatic system, it can quickly metastasize or spread to different tissues and organs throughout the body. Lymphoma most often spreads to the liver, bone marrow, or lungs.

When you receive a lymphoma diagnosis, conversations about sexuality and intimacy are often not a priority. However, you may be concerned about how lymphoma cancer and its treatment may affect your current or future relationships and your sexuality.

Sexuality refers to physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual aspects. It includes self-image, body image, reproductive capacity, emotional intimacy, sensuality, and sexual functioning. Your sexuality is an important part of who you are, how you express yourself, and how you feel about yourself.

How does lymphoma affect sexuality?

Lymphoma treatment can affect your ability to have or enjoy sex. Chemotherapy or radiation treatment near the testicles may lower your testosterone levels and/or impair blood flow to the penis, resulting in the inability to maintain a stable erection (also known as erectile dysfunction), various sexual concerns such as pain, difficulty during sex, or dry arousal and loss of desire for sex. .

Treatment near the brainstem (especially radiation or intrathecal chemotherapy) can also damage the pituitary gland and reduce testosterone levels. You may also be taking various supportive care medications, such as pain medications, because of your lack of desire to engage in sexual activity. In addition, other factors can affect your sexual health. These include your age, your weight, your blood pressure, your drinking or smoking habits, as well as various psychosocial issues.

Sexual problems with lymphoma

Sexual problems can arise from physical aspects of your disease or treatment, as well as emotional ones. Anger, guilt, or anxiety about illness and survival, treatment, or finances can also affect sexuality. Some physical or emotional effects resolve over time, or some effects may last long after treatment ends.

Here are some of the problems you may encounter and suggestions to help minimize them:

Erectile Dysfunction: This is usually caused by low testosterone levels or damage to the blood vessels in the penis. Consult a doctor with special training in treating male sexual problems. They may recommend drug treatments, vacuum devices, penile injections, penile suppositories, penile prostheses, or other alternative treatments.

Lack of joy and excitement: Cancer treatment is rarely a direct cause of decreased happiness or the ability to experience emotion. This can be caused by medications such as antidepressants. It can also be due to emotions related to erectile dysfunction or infertility. Also ask your doctor or counselor to help you out of these problems

Lack of desire, negative thoughts and feelings: Try to identify the cause of these emotions. For example, it can be caused by other feelings such as anxiety, pain or fatigue. This may be related to difficulty with erections or a side effect of pain medication. If it’s the latter, ask your doctor to prescribe alternative adjuvant medications

Other sexual problems: Other factors that can affect sexual desire and performance include dyspareunia (low estrogen levels), vaginal dryness, and immune deficiency (eg, genital warts, herpes) that may cause recurrence of previous STIs.

Psychological Factors: There are various psychological factors that affect sexual performance:

  • High levels of anxiety, stress, worry or fear
  • Role changes (husband and wife vs patient and caregiver)
  • Loss of feeling relaxed and secure
  • Altered body image/poor body image (eg hair loss, weight loss, weight gain)
  • Low sexual self-image
  • Previous negative sexual experiences

Adapting to the new ‘sexual’ normal

Often, the negative effects on sexuality and intimacy from lymphoma treatment subside after treatment ends. However, sometimes the effects can be long-lasting or can permanently change your desire for sex and your ability to have sex or be intimate. For many, adjusting to these changes can be difficult and may even cause friction in your relationships over time. If this is you, below are some strategies and interventions you may want to implement:

  • Consider pain relief and positioning
  • Create a relaxing environment for sex and intimacy
  • Focus on pleasure, not performance
  • Allow yourself to grieve the loss of familiar sexuality and sexual responsiveness
  • Practice talking openly about sex and your feelings with your partner
  • Explore new satisfying sexual activities after treatment
  • Investigate the use of sex toys – vibrators, dildos, lubricants

Many people find it difficult to discuss their sexual concerns with others; However, your doctor or an expert in sexual health can help you overcome these problems. These health care professionals may recommend counseling, medication, or surgery to help you.

Communication with your partner or potential partner is also important. Sexuality is an important part of your quality of life after your lymphoma experience. Break the stereotype that sex must lead to penetration and arousal. Remember that it is possible for both men and women to be sexually satisfied and bond with a passionless experience. Consult your doctor to rule out any physical problems. A sex therapist can help solve some problems.

Prof. (Dr) Saransh Jain is a Swast Bharat Rattan award winner and a certified and licensed sexologist by the American Board of Sexology. He is currently a Senior Consultant at Dr SK Jains Burlington Clinic, Lucknow. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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