'Cancer can affect your sexual health': Survivor calls for more awareness

A cancer survivor has called for more awareness of the sexual issues faced by those who win their battle with the disease.

'Cancer can effect your sexual health': Survivor calls for more awareness

Cancer survivor Sam Patterson spoke to Yahoo7 about surviving cancer and making the most of your life after. Photo: Cancer Council NSW

Sam Patterson, 24, from Rozelle in Sydney, was just a normal guy at university studying for a degree in communications when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011.

Sam told Yahoo7 that more needs to be done to tell those with cancer that it can affect sexual health.

The plea comes as a new study from Western Sydney University, in partnership with Cancer Council NSW, reveals that more than three quarters of survivors of both reproductive and non-reproductive cancers indicated that their sexual activities had changed following treatment.

Sam has been in remission for four years since being diagnosed with cancer when he was 21. Photo: Facebook

Sam told Yahoo7: "I was in lecture at university four years ago when I got the first tell tale symptoms that something was wrong.

"It felt like I was having a panic attack and so I quickly excused myself and went home.

"That night my headaches worsened and I ended up in hospital. The doctors could not work out what was wrong and that started an eight month journey of trying to work out a diagnosis.

"When we found out what it was I was pretty relieved to be honest.

"Being told you have cancer is not great but when I found out it was treatable and that there is about an 85 per cent survival rate that helped."

Sam said every part of your life is impacted when you have cancer. Photo: Cancer Council NSW

Sam underwent four months of intensive chemotherapy treatment and was given the good news that he was in remission on December 23 2011.

A year after undergoing his treatment Sam was dealt another blow when he told the chemotherapy had made him sterile.

"At first I was devastated but you move on. I did get some sperm frozen but I don't think it was made clear that I might be left sterile."

Sam has also been left with everyday fatigue and anxiety since being told he was in remission that impacts him everyday.

"A cancer diagnosis and treatment affects your life exponentially and it can affect your sexual health.

"Nobody really talks about the impacts that cancer can have on your sex life. More communication is needed in this area," Sam told Yahoo7.

Cancer Council NSW, in a separate partnership with University of Sydney, has helped address these issues by developing a world-first online study – Rekindle – which launched in early 2015 and aims to improve the sexual well being of all cancer survivors, and their partners.

Rekindle is a private online sexual health programme that addresses any sexual concerns cancer survivors might have.

Sam said: "There is no service really like Rekindle. It will spark the communication needed between couples when it can be a hard subject.

Dr Haryana Dhillon from Rekindle. Photo: Cancer Council NSW

"These issues need to be spoken about and Rekindle will spark those talks, it can be embarrassing but if you need help it is easy to access information."

Dr Haryana Dhillon, Rekindle Investigator, said: “Survivors are sometimes expected to bounce right back to normality after treatment, but as the new data shows this is not the reality for many people.

“Rekindle participants are survivors of a wide range of cancers, not just those “below-the-belt” cancers more commonly associated with sexual issues as a result of treatment."

Professor Jane Ussher said health professionals needed to develop supportive interventions across the cancer care spectrum.

Lead researcher, Professor Jane Ussher from Western Sydney University School of Medicine, explained that a significant number of survivors of non-reproductive cancers reported problems with sexual functioning after entering remission.

“Sexual desire, arousal and orgasm were significantly reduced for both patients and partners.

"There was also no effect of time since diagnosis on reports of sexual changes, which shows us that sexual changes can be experienced at any stage of the cancer journey, and can be one of the most enduring negative consequences of cancer.

“This study shows the importance of health professionals acknowledging sexual changes and developing supportive interventions across the whole spectrum of cancer care," she said.

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