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Senior intimacy in cancerFor many older adults, intimacy remains an important need. Cancer and cancer treatment can have a major impact on emotions, intimacy and sexual function. For example, more than 60 percent of prostate cancer survivors are 65 years of age and older. Research has indicated that sexual impairment may affect 60 to 80 percent of these men, depending on the type of therapy they received.

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In This Article:

Physical Changes in Cancer

Changes in Emotions Caused by Cancer
Changes in Relationships Due to Cancer

Physical Changes – Effects on Intimacy

For both men and women, some side effects of cancer treatment may inhibit intimacy. Problems are often caused by physical changes, such as erectile dysfunction or incontinence, which can occur after prostate surgery. Other problems are due to emotional issues like changes in body image because of scarring or the loss of a breast.

Other emotional issues including depression, anxiety, and stress between you and your partner can play a role. Factors associated with other medical conditions such as pain or certain medications may also contribute.

Often, sexual problems will not get better on their own, so it is important to talk with your doctor. He or she can suggest a treatment depending on the type of problem and its cause. A variety of things may help, including medications, devices, surgery, exercises to strengthen genital muscles, or counseling. Talking to your partner about your fears and needs, and listening to his or her concerns, can be an important first step to recovering a sense of intimacy.

Changes in Emotions Caused by Cancer

Just as cancer affects your physical health, it can affect the way you feel and act. It can affect the way you relate to your loved ones and coworkers and how they react to you. Surviving cancer also involves taking care of your emotions and relationships.

Each person’s experience with cancer is different, and the feelings and fears that you have are unique. Some typical emotions experienced by cancer survivors are fear, depression, stress, and loneliness. Worrying that the cancer may come back is one of the most common fears among cancer survivors. As time goes by, this fear may lessen.

Long-term cancer survivors are usually considered those who have had no signs of cancer five years after their initial diagnosis, when cancer recurrence becomes less likely. However, years after treatment, some events such as follow-up doctor’s visits, symptoms similar to the ones you had before, or the illness of a family member can trigger concerns.

Finding ways to cope with the fear of your cancer recurring can help you feel better. It is important to stay positive and focus on what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible. Learning about your cancer and what you can do to take care of your body can give you a sense of control.

Acknowledging your feelings of fear, anger, or sadness can help you sort them out and may help you let them go. Talk about your concerns with family, friends, other cancer survivors, or a counselor. You can also sort out your feelings by thinking about them or writing them down.

Being as active as possible can help you focus on other things and take your mind off cancer and the worries it brings. Get out of the house and participate in activities that you enjoy. Take a walk or get some other type of exercise. Many other health benefits also have been attributed to exercise.

After treatment is over, feelings of anger and sadness may linger. For many survivors, these feelings lessen over time, but for others these feelings worsen and can interfere with their daily life. They may develop a condition called depression.

Although depression can affect anyone and is common among cancer survivors, older survivors are at a greater risk of developing depression than those who are younger. Some older adults lack social support often because they do not live near family members or have experienced loss of family or friends.

It is important for you to talk to your doctor about your feelings. If you are depressed, your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you to a therapist who is an expert in depression.

These are some signs that may indicate you need professional help for depression.

  • feelings of worry, sadness, or hopelessness that don’t go away
  • feeling overwhelmed or out of control for long periods of time
  • crying for a long time or many times a day
  • thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • loss of interest in usual activities
There are also physical signs of depression, which include unintended weight gain or loss not due to treatment, sleep problems, and fatigue that doesn’t get better.

Some cancer survivors feel stressed when they try to get their life back to normal after treatment ends. When you were diagnosed, you may have focused on getting better and put concerns such as those about family and finances aside. Now that treatment is over, you may feel pressured and overwhelmed as these issues begin to resurface.

Finding ways to reduce or control the stress in your life can make you feel better. Many cancer survivors have found exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques helpful. Taking time for yourself and devoting time to doing activities that you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or listening to music, can also relieve stress.

Many cancer survivors feel as if others can’t understand what they’ve been through, which makes it hard to relate to other people and can lead to loneliness. Friends and family might be unsure of how to help, and others may feel uncomfortable around you because they are afraid of cancer.

Joining a cancer support group could help you cope with the emotions that you have after cancer. By talking with other cancer survivors and listening to their experiences, you may learn new ways to deal with the problems that you are facing. Being in a group may also help you feel less alone.

There are many types of support groups for cancer survivors. Some focus on one type of cancer, while others are open to those with any cancer. Some groups include both cancer survivors and family members. Support groups may be led by health professionals or by other cancer survivors. You might need to visit one or two different support groups to find the right one for you.

Cancer May Cause Changes in Relationships

Cancer involves not only the patient, but also family, friends, and coworkers. This is as true after treatment as it is when treatment is going on. It’s normal to notice changes in the relationships you have with the people in your life.

When treatment is over, your loved ones may expect you to be enthusiastic about getting on with your life. They may not understand that recovery takes time. Some may give you too much attention, while others may avoid you or hide their feelings because they think you have had enough to deal with.

Your loved ones also have been through a difficult time and may feel the need to resume a normal life. For example, if you did the gardening before cancer, your spouse may expect you to begin again. If you don’t feel up to it, tell them and don’t feel pressured to do more than you can handle.

At other times, you may expect more from your loved ones than you receive. For instance, you may still need your family’s support and may expect your children or grandchildren to be as attentive as they were during your treatment, but they may not call as often as you think they should. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and give yourself time to adjust to changes. If you need more support, call your friends or family instead of waiting for them to call you.

Sometimes it’s necessary to seek outside help. Ask your doctor to refer you to a counselor who can help you communicate with your loved ones. Join a support group if you feel that talking with other survivors who have gone through similar experiences would be helpful. Support groups are also available for loved ones of cancer survivors.

Many survivors age 60 and older are still working. Some may need to work, while others enjoy being around people and staying busy. Returning to work after cancer treatment is over can help you feel that your life is getting back to normal.

Just like your loved ones, friends at work may respond to you in different ways. Some may be very supportive, while others may be uncomfortable and try to avoid you. Think about the best approach for you to deal with their reactions.

Many survivors find it helpful to plan what they will say about their cancer. Some are open about discussing it, but others don’t want to focus on it. You should choose what is right for you.

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Source: National Library of Medicine

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