Childhood cancer treatments tied to sex lives years later

(Reuters Health) - In general, childhood cancer survivors are just as satisfied with their sex lives as people who didn’t have cancer, a recent study suggests.

The cancer survivors had fewer lifetime sex partners, on average, than a comparison group that hadn’t had cancer, researchers found. Even so, as long as the cancer survivors were in satisfying relationships, they were satisfied with their sex lives, too.

Researchers also found, however, that children who received cancer treatments that were toxic to the brain had more trouble achieving certain milestones of psychosexual development, like first intercourse, number of lifetime sex partners, being in a relationship, and having biological children.

“We found what we expected, the high-dose (chemotherapy) group was the least likely to be sexually experienced, to be in relationships or to have children,” said lead author Vicky Lehmann, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University in Columbus.

While marriage may be a milestone, she said, marrying later or not at all does not mean a person is unhappy with their life.

“It doesn’t matter whether you were 17, 18, 19 or 35 when you had your first boyfriend or girlfriend, as long as you’re happy,” Lehman told Reuters Health.

She was inspired to conduct this research, she said, after other studies found childhood cancer survivors were less likely to marry in adulthood than other people.

For the new study, she and her colleagues surveyed 144 survivors of childhood cancer and 144 people with similar background who didn’t have cancer during childhood. Participants were ages 20 to 40 when they answered questionnaires about their psychosexual development, sexual satisfaction and satisfaction with relationship status.

In both groups, first sexual experiences occurred around age 18. A similar proportion in each group had children and was partnered or married. Additionally, there was no difference in sexual satisfaction or relationship status satisfaction between the two groups.

Childhood cancer survivors reported about seven sexual partners during their lives, compared to about 11 among the comparison group, however.

The researchers also found differences based on the cancer patients’ treatments.

For example, people who received high-doses of neurotoxic treatments reported the lowest rates of achieving psychosexual development - but their satisfaction did not consistently differ from other participants.

The study can’t say why people who received the most toxic treatments are less likely to reach milestones, but Lehmann said it might be due to impairments from those treatments that leave some childhood cancer survivors with worse social skills to find partners.

If people are struggling, she said it’s important for them to look for help, such as at survivor clinics.

Lehmann also said it’s important to remember that many measurements of sexuality are subjective.

“They may not be achieving everything, but it doesn’t mean they’re less satisfied,” she said.

SOURCE: Cancer, online February 6, 2017.