Cancer is horrible no matter when it strikes, but childhood cancer has some long-lasting repercussions unseen in patients who acquire the disease later in life. We know that childhood cancer can hurt a patient’s fertility, but what about their overall sexual satisfaction and love lives? A new study investigated these questions, and uncovered some mixed results.

According to the study, now published online in Cancer, adult survivors of childhood cancer overall do not differ from their peers in terms of their satisfaction with their sex lives and romantic relationships despite having fewer sexual partners than peers who did not have childhood cancer,

However, the research did note that childhood cancer survivors who received treatments that were especially toxic to the nervous system were least likely to have had intercourse, be in a relationship, or have children. In addition, survivors who received high-dose neurotoxic treatments were less likely to reach certain milestones of psychosexual development, though they were not necessarily less satisfied than others.

Read: How Chemotherapy May Affect Male Fertility

"Psychosexual development entails reaching certain milestones, such as sexual debut, entering committed relationships, or having children," said study researcher Vicky Lehmann, in a recent statement "It is a normative part of becoming an adolescent or young adult, but only comparing such milestones without taking satisfaction into account falls short. These issues are understudied among survivors of childhood cancer."

Lehmann told Medical Daily in an email that the research included several different types of cancer treatments including high-dose radiation to the brain, intrathecal chemotherapy delivered directly to the brain, and intravenous chemotherapy with drugs that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. In addition, Lehmann also explained that survivors with specific types of cancers were more likely to have received these high-dose neurotoxic treatments than others.

“We identified that 55% of brain tumor survivors, 48% of leukemia survivors, and 32% of lymphoma survivors had received high-dose neurotoxic treatments, and could be at risk,” wrote Lehmann in her email. “Survivors of other solid tumors, like sarcomas, are not very likely to have received such intense treatments.”

Lehmann recognized that there are likely psychological reasons behind the sexual discrepancies of childhood cancer survivors that her research didn't specifically look into.

We are also starting to learn more about how childhood cancer treatments may affect survivors' future fertility. A new study published last week found permanent genetic changes in the sperm of male childhood cancer survivors believed to be a direct result of their treatment. Although it’s not clear how these changes could affect their offspring, animal studies suggested that it may lead to increased risk for certain diseases and lowered fertility in future generations.

Source: Lehmann V, Tuinman MA, Keim MC, et al. Psychosexual development and satisfaction in long-term survivors of childhood cancer: Neurotoxic treatment intensity as a risk indicator. Cancer . 2017

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