The Impact of Cancer and Its Treatments on the Sexual Self of Young Adult Cancer Survivors and as Compared to Their Healthy Peers
There is a significant lack of research on the long term effects of cancer treatment on sexuality and intimacy, specifically in those diagnosed as young adults (YA) (18 to 40 years old). Sexuality and intimacy are quality of life issues affected by cancer and its treatments, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic background. Sexual dissatisfaction, whether physical, psychological, or emotional, not only affects the person being treated for a disease, but also his/her partner and the overall relationship. Although there is substantial literature supporting the challenges in sexual function, fertility, and body image in persons with cancer, there is a significant lack of research on the long term effects of cancer treatment on sexuality and intimacy, specifically in those cancer survivors diagnosed as young adults who are two to five years post cancer diagnosis. Utilizing cognitive theory as the guide, this study sought to explore the differences in this researcher's conceptual model of the sexual self of young adult cancer survivors as compared to their healthy peers (those with no history of a cancer diagnosis). This exploratory study utilized a mixed-methods research design to study the sexual selves of young adult cancer survivors (diagnosed two to five years ago) and healthy peers. A total of 167 young adults participated in the online survey; 113 survivors and 54 healthy peers. The primary purpose of this study was to investigate this researcher's conceptual model of the sexual self, and the sexual self of YA cancer survivors; 2 - 5 years post diagnosis as compared to their healthy peers.Findings show that the sexual selves of young adult cancer survivors are indeed different than those of their peers, demonstrating lower sexual esteem, higher sexual distress, and lower sexual function. Additionally, qualitative data demonstrated that health care professionals are not sufficiently addressing the sexual health concerns of young adult survivors. The lack of information provided appeared to be interpreted as dismissive of the importance of their sexuality and sexual health needs. Further, quality of life was lower and psychological distress was higher when a more negative sexual self was present in the survivor.
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