Continue reading to learn more about questions for your doctor after cancer regarding sexual health side effects that you can actually use with your medical teams any time before, during, or after active treatment.
If no one on your medical team has talked about the possibility of sexual health side effects from your cancer treatment, then it’s in your best interest to ask them about it. It’s possible it is written in the literature you’ve been given, but not talked about directly with you. Unfortunately it’s also possible that there are no consistent practice behaviors in place to ensure this is adequately handled with all patients. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, and because we’re dealing with other humans, it quite possible your medical team is waiting for you to ask the question if you have one. I’ve often described this “communication gap” that exists between patients and providers on this topic, and those are some of the reasons your medical team hasn’t approached you on the topic, but there are other reasons also.
Have you noticed how busy everyone is in the day? Physicians spend 6-8 minutes with us and we often need those minutes directed toward status on the cancer treatment and questions directly related to the physical nature of the cancer. During active treatment we’re in the fight of our lives, right? And it’s also true that until very recently, medical professionals haven’t had formal training on this topic. At an oncology conference I was speaking at last year, a physician told me that he doesn’t ask about sexual health topics because he doesn’t know what resources there are to help? He doesn’t have the answers to the questions patients would ask, so he doesn’t bring it up? And there are several reasons why it’s difficult for patients to ask also.
Patients often don’t know if their sexual health issues are considered medical issues, we don’t always have the medical terminology to describe our concerns, and there is also a concern about being judged or having a negative reaction from our question. We as patients need a safe supportive environment to feel comfortable. A place and time without interruption to describe our specific concerns.
But in the absence of that, I’m going to give you some questions, some examples of questions you can use with your medical teams to get your issues addressed. Use these or use it as a template to edit and develop your own. This will get you started.
These questions can be asked before treatment has started, during, or after. I recommend asking the questions as soon you have any concerns, as sometimes there are things you can be doing to help yourself, or lessen the severity of the symptom.
The following questions for your doctor after cancer can be used by men or women.
- What treatment side effects will affect my sex life? (or you can substitute “my intimate relationship” for “sex life”)
- Will those side effects be short term or long term, and is there anything I can do to lessen the severity?
- Who is the correct person to talk to about the sexual health side effects I’m having since my treatment/surgery/medication/therapy?
- What have your other patients found successful after treatment?
- Regarding our intimate relationship, what can my partner expect from my treatment?
The next two are questions specific to female patients or survivors.
- I’ve been told menopausal symptoms are possible. Can you explain those to me and how that will impact my everyday life and my relationship with my partner?
- I’m having the side effects you warned me about before treatment started. Can you help me with those symptoms or can you refer me to someone else? Maybe a gynecologist? Is there anything special I should tell them about my specific treatment?
The next two questions are specific to men.
- I’m having some of the side effects I read about before treatment. What are my options at this point?
- Am I a good candidate for Erectile Dysfunction medicines I’ve seen advertised on TV? Will that alone take care of my issues?
- I’ve had both incontinence issues and erectile dysfunction issues recently. Who is best person to address these issues? Can you refer me to a urologist that has experience with oncology patients?
- I am able to get an erection, but not able to maintain one. Will that ever resolve itself so maintaining an erection is possible?
- I believed that the nerve sparing treatment would actually spare my nerves and not negatively impact my ability to get and keep an erection. That hasn’t been the case. What are next steps to determining if anything else can be done to resolve these issues?
- Are you the best person to be talking to about this, or can you refer me to someone who has experience dealing with these specific side effects?
- My wife asked me to enquire about what the next steps are to getting back our love life. (you can substitute sex life or marital relationship if that is easier to say..)
If you’re too shy to ask the question, see if your partner will ask for you. There’s also a possibility of electronically asking the questions on “My Chart” online. That way your medical team can do the appropriate research and get back to you with helpful information. Remember, your concerns are not unique, and you’re not the first person to ask these questions. It’s important to get these answers for yourself and your relationship. These are quality of life issues and though it may not feel like the most important concern when you’re battling the cancer during active treatment, as you get back to finding normalcy in your life, having these answers will go a long way to finding intimacy again.
Remember, to visit us at our website aftercancer.co where you’ll find great information and resources. Sign up to join the community of survivors struggling with these issues. I’ll send out information, tips, and advice directly to your email inbox. And also remember your questions are welcomed and encouraged. Leave a comment below or at aftercancer.co.