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High dose cancer treatment halts sexual development

Survivors of childhood cancer who were treated for brain tumours or received high-dose neurotoxic treatments are less likely than peers to form sexual relationships and to have children.

Survivors of childhood cancer who were treated for brain tumours or received high-dose neurotoxic treatments are less likely than peers to form sexual relationships and to have children.


Childhood cancer treatment can effect neurocognitive developments later in life
Picture: iStock

Cancer treatment during childhood can be detrimental to the developing brain and cause lasting neurocognitive impairments that can contribute to difficulties in social interactions.

A study published in Cancer found brain tumour survivors or those who had received high-dose neurotoxic treatments were least likely to have had intercourse, be in a relationship or to have children.

However, despite achieving fewer such psychosexual milestones, they were not necessarily less satisfied with their sex lives and romantic relationships.

Collecting data

The researchers asked 144 young adult survivors of childhood cancer and 144 matched controls to complete questionnaires about psychosexual development, sexual satisfaction and satisfaction with their relationship status. The researchers also used information from medical charts to rate the neurotoxicity of the treatment received.

‘Psychosexual development entails reaching certain milestones, such as sexual debut, entering committed relationships or having children,’ said Vicky Lehmann, the lead researcher.

‘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 V, Tuinman M, Keim M et al (2017) Psychosexual development and satisfaction in long-term survivors of childhood cancer: neurotoxic treatment intensity as a risk indicator. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30513

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