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Sexuality and Reproductive Issues (PDQ®)

Assessing Sexual Function in Cancer Patients

Your doctor will talk with you to find out what may be causing your sexual problems and how these problems affect your life.

As part of the assessment, your doctor will talk with you alone or with both you and your partner. You may be asked the following questions:

  • Do you have any problems or concerns related to sexuality?
  • How often do you feel a desire to have sex?
  • Do you enjoy sex?
  • Do you have enough energy for sex?
  • Do you become sexually aroused (for men, are you able to get and keep an erection, or for women, does your vagina expand and become lubricated)?
  • Are you able to reach orgasm during sex? What types of stimulation can cause an orgasm (for example, self-touch, use of a vibrator, shower massage, partner caressing, oral stimulation, or intercourse)?
  • Do you have pain during sex? Where do you feel the pain? What does the pain feel like? What kinds of sexual activity cause pain? Does this cause pain every time? How long does the pain last?
  • When did your sexual problems begin? Was it around the same time that you were diagnosed with cancer or had cancer treatment? Did you have sexual problems before you were diagnosed with cancer?
  • Are you taking any medicines? Did you start taking any new medicines or did the doctor change the dose of any medicines around the time that your sexual problems started?

Your doctor may ask questions about your relationship with your partner.

You may be asked the following questions if you have a partner:

  • How long were you with your partner before you were diagnosed with cancer?
  • How stable was your relationship?
  • How did your partner react when you were diagnosed with cancer?
  • Are you concerned about how your partner may be affected by your treatment?

You and your partner may have sexual problems and concerns and fears about your relationship. It is important that you and your partner talk about these things with a doctor you feel comfortable with.

Your doctor may also ask you about your lifestyle.

You may be asked the following questions about your lifestyle:

  • Do you smoke? If yes, how much and how often do you smoke? If no, have you smoked in the past?
  • Do you drink alcohol? If yes, how much and how often?
  • Do you take prescription or over-the-counter medicines? If yes, what kinds and how much?

Sexual assessment may include a physical exam and other tests.

The following tests and procedures may be done:

  • Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Blood tests: Tests done on a sample of blood to measure the amount of certain substances in the blood or to count different types of blood cells. Blood tests may be done to look for signs of disease or agents that cause disease, to check for antibodies or tumor markers, or to see how well treatments are working.
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
  • Measurement of nighttime erections: A test to check whether a man is having erections during sleep. If there are good erections during sleep, there is probably no physical cause for his erection problems. Nighttime erections are measured during sleep using the following:
    • Snap gauge: A device made of plastic rings fitted around the penis, which break when there is an erection.
    • Electronic monitoring : A device that records the number of erections that occur and how long and rigid they are.
  • Blood hormone studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain hormones released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher- or lower-than-normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it.
  • Updated: December 9, 2013