Older cancer survivors’ self-reports of sexual activity and functioning are comparable to age-matched people without cancer; despite this, sexual dissatisfaction is more prevalent among men and women with cancer than age-matched groups without cancer, a study published in Cancer has shown.1 

Using data from 2982 men and 3708 women, age 50 years or older, who were participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, researchers conducted a population-based study to assess differences in sexual activity, function, and concerns between cancer survivors and cancer-free persons (control group).

To assess sexual well-being, participants completed the Sexual Relationship and Activities Questionnaire; cancer diagnoses were self-reported. 

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No differences in levels of sexual activity (cancer survivors vs controls, respectively: 76.0% vs 78.5% for men, 58.2% vs 55.5% for women) or sexual function were noted. Dissatisfaction with their sex life was more prevalent among men and women with cancer than those in the control group (age-adjusted percentages: 30.9% vs 19.8% for men [P =.023], 18.2% vs 11.8% for women [P =.034]). In addition, concerns about levels of sexual desire were greater among women with cancer (10.2% vs 7.1%, P =.006). 

In participants whose cancer was diagnosed less than 5 years ago, women were more likely to report sexual dysfunction (difficulty with becoming aroused, 55.4% vs 31.8%; P =.016; achieving orgasm, 60.6% vs 28.3%; P <.001). Women also expressed greater concerns regarding sexual desire (14.8% vs 7.1%; P =.007) and orgasmic experience (17.6% vs 7.1%; P =.042) than controls, but no differences were seen among men.

This study shows levels of sexual activity and functioning for cancer survivors 50 years and older are comparable to those of age-matched people with no cancer. However, sexual dissatisfaction is greater among cancer survivors than cancer-free persons. 

The researchers suggest interventions that address low sexual desire and sexual functioning problems for women are needed, particularly in regard to sexual activity and functioning after treatment.


1. Jackson SE, Wardle J, Steptoe A, Fisher A. Sexuality after a cancer diagnosis: a population-based study. Cancer. 2016 Aug 16. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30263. [Epub ahead of print]