Sex Issues from Cancer? Don't Wait to Get Help

Woman looks through window with blinds

Women's Health Monthly: September 2017

"Of all the effects cancer has had on me, losing sex is the hardest."  

This, from a patient of Lisa Egan, P.A.-C., who had been through four surgeries, chemotherapy and the fear of losing her life. 

"This profoundly shows the far-reaching effects of cancer," Egan says. 

Egan is a certified physician assistant and, along with Melissa Moffitt, M.D., is the creator of a new program at the OHSU Center for Women's Health. With 13 years of experience caring for women with gynecologic cancer, she cares deeply about helping women impacted by cancer enjoy healthy sex lives. 

For women impacted by cancer, sexual health is too often overlooked. Whether or not it's located in the sex organs, cancer can wreak havoc with sexual health. Cancer treatments (like radiation and chemotherapy), anxiety and depression related to a cancer diagnosis, and risk-reducing surgeries like hysterectomies can also impact sexual health. 

The OHSU Center for Women's Health is the only place in the Portland metro area with a program just for women with sexual health issues related to cancer. We're proud to offer this unique service because of the important health benefits of sex for all women. 

"Too often sexuality is ignored or seen as the last thing to worry about when women go through cancer diagnosis and treatment," says Egan.  

With complex diagnoses and treatment plans, many oncologists aren't able to prioritize sexual health. Egan, with her deep knowledge of the gynecologic side effects of cancer, is the perfect person to step in.  

With new patients in her clinic, Egan spends a full hour. She listens to their story, and sets goals with each patient based on their priorities, such as eliminating pain with sex or getting their sexual desire back.  

Listening is often the most important part.  

"Many of my patients have been hurting for so long by the time I see them," Egan says. She often hears from women that sex seemed like a luxury to worry about while dealing with cancer. 

"There's no reason to wait," she says. Women can and should be treated for sexual health issues as soon as they arise, even during cancer treatment and recovery. 

"My advice to anyone struggling with sexual health problems is not to wait," she says. "Sex is an essential part of who you are and can help you feel more normal in the midst of cancer. We take this seriously and we can help."

Read more news stories