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Overview of sexual dysfunction in female cancer survivors

Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG
Section Editor
Patricia A Ganz, MD
Deputy Editor
Sadhna R Vora, MD


Early detection and treatment of cancer continue to advance, and the number of cancer survivors continues to increase. It is estimated that as of January 2016, there were 15.5 million people with a history of cancer in the United States, and the number is expected to increase to 20 million by 2026 [1].

For female cancer survivors, gynecologic issues are a major concern and many of these issues impact sexual function. Sexual health conditions that affect women during or after cancer treatment may be considered according to the same categories as female sexual dysfunction in the general population. The American Psychiatric Association defines the following female sexual disorders: sexual interest/arousal, orgasmic, and genitopelvic pain/penetration [2]. Each of these categories of function can be impacted by cancer and its treatments.

The general approach to sexual health issues associated with cancer treatment involves patient education, screening, diagnosis, and management.

This topic will review sexual health issues in women diagnosed with and treated for cancer. Female sexual dysfunction in general, fertility preservation in cancer patients, and infertility and pregnancy outcomes in cancer survivors are discussed separately. (See "Sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation" and "Sexual dysfunction in women: Management" and "Fertility preservation in patients undergoing gonadotoxic treatment or gonadal resection" and "Overview of infertility and pregnancy outcome in cancer survivors".)


Sexual issues are more common among female cancer survivors. In the general population, 40 percent of women have sexual complaints, although a clinical diagnosis of sexual dysfunction requires that the sexual issue is associated with personal distress, and this is not assessed in most studies [3,4]. (See "Sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation", section on 'Epidemiology' and "Sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation", section on 'Diagnostic criteria'.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 01, 2017.
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