Sexual Difficulties after Pelvic Radiotherapy: Improving Clinical Management

Modern multimodality cancer treatment has led to more than 2 million people living with and beyond cancer in the UK, an impressive survival statistic on which clinicians and services continue to build. However, what is less readily acknowledged by health professionals and patients alike are the 500 000 people whose daily lives are adversely affected by the longer term consequences of cancer treatment.

Macmillan Cancer Support estimate as many as 350 000 people in the UK experience sexual consequences of cancer and its treatment, an aspect of survivorship and rehabilitation that receives relatively scant attention in service provision, policy development and research terms. This overview addresses the sexual impact of radical pelvic radiotherapy for the more common (prostate, ano-rectal, cervical and endometrial) adult malignancies. Through discussion of the clinical assessment and management of desire, arousal, orgasmic and sexual pain difficulties that arise after pelvic radiotherapy, this overview offers an integrated biopsychosocial model of practice that incorporates the physical, psychological and relationship elements of these treatment sequelae.

It is important that clinicians raise the profile of the sexual consequences of cancer treatment as a legitimate aspect of survivorship and service provision. Only in this way can the identification and management of treatment-induced sexual difficulties, frequently experienced by patients and their partners, be better understood and managed. Increased focus on the sexual consequences of treatment and cancer survivorship more broadly may, in time, lead to greater clinical recognition, service development and, most importantly, increased research devoted to the effective management of what remains a neglected aspect of cancer care.