Sexual dysfunction in female cancer survivors: A narrative review

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2019 Sep-Oct:60:141-147. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2019.04.003. Epub 2019 Apr 18.


Objectives: Due to improvements in earlier detection and expansions in available treatments, the number of individuals surviving with cancer is steadily increasing. Sexual dysfunction is a common and often persistent complication for cancer survivors, affecting >60% of women diagnosed with cancer. Although highly prevalent, issues related to sexual health are often not addressed among survivors, with women reporting less discussion with providers compared to men.

Methods: In this narrative review, we present a case series of three women seen in a psycho-oncology clinic who experienced sexual dysfunction following a cancer diagnosis. We then review existing literature on the presentation and management of sexual issues associated with cancer and its treatment.

Results: The three cases highlight different mechanisms of sexual dysfunction after cancer, including anatomic changes, hormonal alterations, psychiatric conditions and medication side effects. The literature review includes discussion of the prevalence and course of sexual dysfunction in female cancer survivors. Tools for screening and assessment are then reviewed, as well as contributing factors and common presenting symptoms. We conclude with a discussion of both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approaches to management.

Conclusions: Despite its high prevalence and considerable impact on quality of life, the complication of sexual dysfunction after cancer diagnosis and treatment is still under recognized and undertreated. Improving awareness, communication, and screening, as well as appropriate referral to treatment, could have a profound impact on the ever growing number of women surviving with cancer with sexual health concerns.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Cancer Survivors*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological* / diagnosis
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological* / etiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological* / therapy
  • Urogenital Neoplasms / therapy*