Sexual Health in Women Affected by Cancer: Focus on Sexual Pain

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As cancer therapies improve, the number of women surviving or living long lives with cancer continues to increase. Treatment modalities, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormonal therapy, affect sexual function and may cause sexual pain through a variety of mechanisms, depending on treatment type. Adverse sexual effects resulting from ovarian damage, anatomic alterations, and neurologic, myofascial, or pelvic organ injury may affect more than half of women affected by cancer. Despite the fact that no specialty is better qualified to render care for this consequence of cancer treatments, many obstetrician–gynecologists (ob-gyns) feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to address sexual pain in women affected by cancer. Asking about sexual pain and dyspareunia and performing a thorough physical examination are essential steps to guide management, which must be tailored to individual patient goals. Understanding the cancer treatment-related pathophysiology of sexual pain aids in providing this care. Effective mechanism-based treatments for sexual pain and dyspareunia are available, and by using them, knowledgeable ob-gyns can enhance the quality of life of potentially millions of women affected by cancer.

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