Screen Readers Skip to Content

Sexual Issues for Young Female Cancer Survivors

Author: Taylor & Francis Group
Author Contact:
Published: 1st Oct 2022 - Updated: 5th Jan 2023
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: Female Sexual Health Publications

Summary: Young female cancer survivors are at much higher risk of sexual problems, including loss of libido and discomfort, according to new research.


Cancer Survivor

The American Cancer Society uses the term cancer survivor to refer to anyone diagnosed with cancer, no matter where they are in the course of their disease. Whether a person becomes a survivor at the time of diagnosis or after completing treatment, whether people who are actively dying are considered survivors, and whether healthy friends and family members of the cancer patient are also considered survivors varies from group to group. Some people diagnosed with cancer reject the term survivor or disagree with some definitions.

Main Document

Prevalence and risk factors for sexual dysfunction in young women following a cancer diagnosis - a population-based study.

Young female cancer survivors are at much higher risk of sexual problems, including loss of libido and discomfort, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Oncologica.

The study - one of the largest of its kind to date - also suggests that cancer type and intensity of treatment influence the quality of a patient's sex life.

The findings are based on nearly 700 women diagnosed with breast and other cancers before age 40. They show women are equally sexually active as those without these diseases, but a significantly greater proportion experience intimacy difficulties.

Lack of interest in sex (45%) was the number one issue cancer patients reported, followed by problems around achieving orgasm (34%) and satisfaction with sex life (22%).

These concerns were also common among women in the general population without a cancer diagnosis but to a lesser extent (32%, 28%, and 19%, respectively).

Now, the authors - a team of researchers including from Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institutet, both in Sweden - are urging medics to provide sexual wellbeing support where appropriate. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), vaginal moisturizers, and psychosexual counseling are among the strategies they suggest, including for single women.

"This is one of the largest population-based studies of sexual function ever conducted in young women following cancer," says lead author and the principal investigator Lena Wettergren, a Professor in Care Sciences at Uppsala University.

"Our results show two out of three women experienced sexual dysfunction, and the problems are related to their cancer treatment and emotional distress."

"These findings underscore the need to routinely assess sexual health in clinical care and follow-up,"

"We recommend development of specific interventions directed to women in addition to offering counselling and other aids."

More than half a million women in young adulthood are diagnosed with cancer every year globally. Hormone changes and body image issues are biological and psychological factors that can undermine their participation in or enjoyment of intimacy.

The full extent of the link between cancer and sexual dysfunction is unknown. Some studies have suggested around half of the young women report sexual issues in the first years after diagnosis.

But breast cancer dominates the research, and few studies have compared patients with the general population.

The authors of this study wanted to determine the extent and cause of the problems young female cancer patients face.

Data was based on 694 women aged 18 to 39, diagnosed between January 2016 to August 2017, and identified through official national health registries.

Half had breast cancer; the rest had gynecological cancer, brain tumors, or lymphoma. A total of 53% had undergone treatment rated 'very' or 'most' in terms of its intensity or how extensive it was.

All were surveyed one-and-a-half years after diagnosis about their sex lives over the last month. Questions were based on eight topics relating to sexual activity, such as satisfaction with sex life, interest in sexual activity, discomfort and pain when engaging in sexual activity, and ability to orgasm.

In addition, patients were asked to give reasons for not having sex with a partner and questioned about body image, such as whether they found it hard to look at themselves naked. They also rated their emotional distress.

Results were compared with a random sample of 493 women aged 19 to 40 without a cancer diagnosis.

Findings showed that most women with cancer and those without (83% vs. 87% respectively) had sex in the last 30 days, either with a partner or through masturbation.

However, two in three (63%) cancer patients complained of at least one sexual issue, such as vulvar discomfort. Survey participants were also more likely, overall, to report issues relating to any sexual activity.

Older women and those with breast or gynecological cancer were at higher risk of sex-related problems. This was also the case with patients undergoing more intense treatment such as high-dose radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Emotional distress and a distorted perception of their bodies following cancer treatment were associated with greater sexual dysfunction.

Vaginal dryness or pain and feeling unattractive were the key factors linked to lack of sexual activity with a partner. This was among cancer patients, and the authors highlight that these are all potentially related to cancer treatment.

Limitations of the study include that the participants who agreed to participate may have been more sexually active and had fewer sex problems, or vice versa. It therefore, could create results that over or underestimate the findings, but most people (72%) asked to complete the survey did so.

References and Source(s):

Sexual Issues for Young Female Cancer Survivors | Taylor & Francis Group ( makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

Post to Twitter Add to Facebook

Latest Female Sexual Health Publications

The above information is from our reference library of resources relating to Female Sexual Health that includes:

Gender Stereotypes Impact Diagnosis of Girls with Developmental Language Disorder thumbnail image.
Researchers examine the consequences of sexist myths on development of language, communication, and the social and emotional spheres among children.
Publish Date: 6th Feb 2023
A Tale of Three Women: Vaginismus, Menopause, and Sexual Anhedonia thumbnail image.
Three women with separate stories of sexual issues and discoveries.
Publish Date: 31st Jan 2023
Wooden court gavel and sound block. thumbnail image
A third of women of reproductive age in the United States face excessive travel times to obtain an abortion after U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson decision.
Publish Date: 1st Nov 2022
Illustration showing the internal anatomy of the human vulva, focusing on the anatomy and location of the clitoris. thumbnail image
The Discovery of over 10,000 human clitoral nerve fibers that enable pleasurable sensation could improve health and sexual function.
Publish Date: 28th Oct 2022

1How Many Genders Are There?
Alphabetical list of gender identities.

2Transgender Reporting Guide
How to write about transgender people.

3Glossary of Sexuality Terms
Definitions of sexual terms & acronyms.

4Glossary of Gender Terms
Definitions of gender related terms.

5Am I Gay? Questions to Ask
Think you may be gay or bisexual?

• Submissions: Send us your coming events and LGBTQ related news stories.

• Report Errors: Please report outdated or inaccurate information to us.

• (APA): Taylor & Francis Group. (2022, October 1). Sexual Issues for Young Female Cancer Survivors. Retrieved September 23, 2023 from

• Permalink: <a href="">Sexual Issues for Young Female Cancer Survivors</a>