Men who have survived childhood cancer are at higher risk for erectile dysfunction (ED), according to an American research team.
Higher ED risk may also be related to particular types of cancer treatment, such as radiation to the testicles and pelvic surgery, they added.
In the United States, about 80% of patients with childhood cancer survive at least 5 years. An estimated 400,000 childhood cancer survivors were living in the U.S. at the beginning of 2012.
However, little is known about the later sexual consequences of childhood cancer treatment in boys. In this study, the authors focused specifically on ED.
The participants included 1,622 adult male cancer survivors and 271 brothers. On average, they were about 38 years old. All of the men completed the Male Health Questionnaire (MHQ), which addresses sexual health in light of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Included within the MHQ is the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), which assesses sexual function and satisfaction.
About 93% of the survivors and 98% of the brothers said they had had sexual activity, either alone or with a partner, within the previous year. Based on their IIEF scores, approximately 12% of survivors and 4% of the siblings had ED, with about 6% of survivors and 2% of siblings saying they’d had treatment.
In survivors, methods of cancer treatment seemed to affect erectile function. ED was more common in men who had had testicular radiation doses of at least 10 Gy. (Gray is a unit of measure for radiation.) Men who had had surgery on the spinal cord, nerves, prostate, or pelvis were also at higher risk for ED.
Overall, childhood cancer survivors’ risk for ED was 2.6 times higher than the risk for the siblings.
Men don’t always feel comfortable discussing sexual problems with a doctor. And doctors don’t always ask about sexuality. However, as childhood cancer survival rates improve over time, survivors’ sexual health becomes an important quality-of-life issue that needs attention, the authors explained.
“Understanding sexual concerns of men who have survived childhood cancer will allow treating clinicians to better predict subsequent health effects in men for future generations and provide treatment for those who develop difficulties,” the authors wrote.
They added that advances in childhood cancer research and treatment call for further study of adult survivors.
The study is currently an article in press to be published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Ritenour, Chad W.M., MD, et al.
“Erectile Dysfunction in Male Survivors of Childhood Cancer—A Report From the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study”
(Full-text. Article in Press)