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Sexuality after Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

Researchers interviewed patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer with a treatment regimen including either radiation alone or both radiation and chemotherapy. The study focused on the patients’ sexuality and 37 percent of the respondents reported a reduction in sexual interest before treatment began.

During treatment, sexual interest increased to about 60 percent when the patients went for their 6-week follow-up visit. The patients also reported a return to their initial sexual interest at and after the 12-month follow-up visits. 

The possible reasons for the changes in sexuality varied at different stages and they include:

  • In those that experienced a reduction before treatment, the underlying causes were old age, weight loss, constipation and a difficulty initiating or engaging social contact. During the subsequent 6- and 24-month follow-up visits, poor social functioning and being female had a negative impact on sexuality. Sticky saliva, loss of appetite, fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting appeared as contributing factors during the 6-week follow-up visit.

  • The participants were about 61 years of age on average. 26 percent were female and 74 percent were male. 47 percent were on both chemotherapy and radiation while 53 percent only had radiation. Almost half of the patients had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Common cancers diagnosed include oropharynx (46 percent), larynx (31 percent), oral cavity (13 percent), and hypopharynx (12 percent).

While head and neck cancers are a big challenge patients have to work through, sexual health remains pivotal to human survival. It is important for patients to thrive and anything that affects this requires further research in order to adequately demystify it. Head and neck cancer treatment affects sexual health in both genders.

It is, however, more pronounced among female patients. Both experience sexuality differently and, therefore, further research is necessary to better help patients during their treatment. Some patients may require supportive care specifically aimed at sexuality.

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