The Side Effect They Don’t Tell You About: Lung Cancer, Treatment, and Your Love Life

The Side Effect They Don’t Tell You About: Lung Cancer, Treatment, and Your Love Life

There is a very common family of side effects that can result from lung cancer treatment, indeed from all cancer treatments. It’s something that doctors have on their checklists for assessing patient status, but it’s a rare doctor who asks about how you are doing in this area. It’s also a rare cancer patient who brings up the subject. Can you guess what this side effect could be?

How has lung cancer affected your love life, especially your most intimate moments?

Lung cancer patients with partners can find themselves dealing with several issues that can affect their sexual relations. Loss of libido is very common. This is a sad loss, because physical intimacy can be a rich source of pleasure, comfort, and joy, and our need for all of these good things does not decrease when we are ill. Even so, dealing with lung cancer can be a killjoy that ripples through your whole being. Lung cancer treatments can also affect your your physical comfort when you get close to your partner. For example, EGFR targeting drugs are famous for negatively affecting the skin, and that includes the skin EVERYwhere on your body.

I’ve been affected by both lost of libido and by side effects from my lung cancer drugs. Meanwhile, it’s important to my husband to continue to have a sex life with me - which means it’s important for me to not turn away. Re-engaging with my physical side is a work in progress, and for me it is worth the effort.

Lung cancer patients without partners have a whole other set of issues to sort out. The desire for love and connection doesn’t go away just because you are ill. Survivors can wonder if it’s even fair to go out on a date, however, when their future seems so uncertain. The stories shared by cancer patients tell us that it is possible to make new friendships and even to find new love. I know a person who met and married the love of her life while being treated for stage IV lung cancer.

There came a point about a year ago when I realized that I had never talked about this with my doctors, so I brought it up, and told them how I was affected sexually by my lung cancer treatment. While no one had any new suggestions that I hadn’t already figured out and implemented, these side effects are now on my official record. I don’t know, however, if my doctors are any more likely to ask patients about their sexual health while they catalog all the other effects of illness and treatment. This is an area where we patients need to gird our loins and speak up. It takes an act of courage to talk about this most private part of our lives, but it’s only by speaking up that we will get help.

Diane Mapes wrote a couple of interesting articles on this subject for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that include both patients’ stories and some good tips. There isn’t much specific to lung cancer patients in these articles, but from conversations I’ve had with others in our community, I know that this is a pretty common issue for us as well as for people dealing with other types of cancer. You can read more here:

The Sexual Aftermath of Cancer: fredhutch.org/en/news/cente...

Your Cancer Sex Rx: fredhutch.org/en/news/cente...

Photo credit: Pixabay picture by harmoniumltd, CC0 Public Domain

7 Replies

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  • Anita, thank you for this. It's something I wonder about from time to time.

  • Thank you for sharing Anita, a very important untold piece of the puzzle, so g lad I'm here learning while waiting on diagnosis, next steps for me is being accepted by new doctor, and bronscopoy. Yes, waiting is so hard, at first reaching for anything to grab on to, and then realizing that it's all in Gods hands, and a journey that will have a silver lining waiting just for me.

  • Thank you for writing about this issue. I feel so fortunate to be 75 years old and single. The only issue for me has been vaginal dryness from the anastrazole. It is quite manageable. This would have been a much more serious issue in my younger, married years.

  • BAM! Nailed it again, Anita! And i might add, if people feel hesitant to talk with their doctors about this, they can certainly have the conversation with a nurse, counselor, or peers too. Don't be shy - this is your life and it is complicated. ..getting support and understanding is so important!

    Thanks Anita!!!!!

  • Well youall have made my face red.

    RW

  • I have to honestly say Anita you certainly did got the nail on the head....

    We are only a young couple but due to the cancer spread to the abdominal wall, we want to be intimate, but it's not possible due to the huge tumour sitting on the abdomen.

    It upsets my husband, but he chooses not to discuss his sex life with anyone but me.

    But I still try and let him feel special by telling him I still love him all the same... I know it's not the same, but it's difficult enough, I don't want him to feel like this, because it frustrates and upsets him...

    However we still go out every evening go sit by the river, enjoy the fresh air, having nice romantic evenings...

    Moments that we treasure....🙏🙏🙏🙏

  • What a burden for your husband on top of everything else... I love what you are doing, Fifi, to support your husband every way you can, and to just love him. Do you have your own support system in place?

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