Pelvic Radiotherapy and Sexual Function in Men and Women

Authors


Pernille Tine Jensen, MD, PhD, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Odense University Hospital, 29, Sdr. Boulevard, opg.55, 2nd Floor, DK-5000 Odense, Denmark. Tel: +45 20952061; E-mail: pernille_jensen@dadlnet.dk

ABSTRACT

Introduction.  Despite the decrease in overall cancer incidence and mortality rates in developed countries since the early 1990s, cancer remains a major public health problem. Sexual dysfunction is one of the more common consequences of cancer treatment.

Aim.  To shortly review the literature and level of evidence on sexual dysfunction in men and women following pelvic radiotherapy.

Main Outcome Measures.  Male and female sexual dysfunction.

Methods.  Literature review.

Results.  Sexual dysfunction in cancer patients is multidimensional and may result from biological, psychological, and social factors. Anatomic changes caused by surgery and/or radiotherapy, physiological changes following hormonal manipulation, and the secondary effect of medical intervention may impede or preclude sexual functioning, even when sexual desire is intact. Pelvic irradiation constitutes the primary or adjuvant treatment for a large number of both female and male cancers. No randomized controlled trials could be identified regarding the effect of radiotherapy on sexual dysfunction. However, prospective and clinical controlled trials all demonstrated a severe negative effect on sexual functioning in men and women following radiotherapy for a pelvic cancer.

Following pelvic radiotherapy for prostate cancer, a positive effect of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors on erectile dysfunction has been demonstrated, whereas no significant effect on female sexuality was found. Few studies evaluated treatment of female sexual dysfunction following radiotherapy; hormone replacement therapy and the use of vaginal dilator in combination with psycho-educational support is recommended.

Conclusion.  Pelvic radiotherapy plays a significant negative role in the complex scenario of male and female sexual dysfunction. The literature has focused on sexual dysfunction and intervention in prostate and cervical cancer patients. Sexual dysfunction following pelvic radiotherapy for cancer in other pelvic organs, e.g., bladder, rectum, and anus, requires more attention in future studies. Health care providers should pay attention to and provide psychological and medical support regarding sexual dysfunction to all patients who have received pelvic radiotherapy. Incrocci L and Jensen PT. Pelvic radiotherapy and sexual function in men and women. J Sex Med 2013;10(suppl 1):53–64.

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