Ginyard, now a 56-year-old entrepreneur in Baltimore, listened as his medical team
walked him through his treatment options and their possible side effects, including
the potential for erectile dysfunction and other problems related to sexual activity.
But Ginyard wasn’t thinking about sex. “The only thing that was on my mind was to
get rid of the cancer,” he says. “The side effects I would deal with later.”
After consulting with his doctors, Ginyard underwent a nerve-sparing radical
prostatectomy to remove his prostate, with the hope of preserving his urinary and
erectile functions. Following the surgery, he received radiation treatment five days
a week for eight weeks and underwent hormone therapy, which included Lupron
(leuprolide acetate) and bicalutamide, for four months. He says his libido took a nose-
dive during the time that he took hormone therapy.
Ginyard was stunned by the diagnosis and its sexual aftereffects. Part of his difficulty stemmed from feeling there was nothing he could control, so he began talking
with his wife, Karen, about what he was going through. “We are pretty good at being
open and honestly communicating with one another,” he says.
Sex after cancer can present challenges, particularly for those who have cancers affecting the sex organs and nearby areas of the body. These cancers make up roughly two-thirds
of all cancers in the United States. In 2009, a survey of 253 men and women treated for
colorectal, prostate, bladder, gynecological or breast cancer found that nearly half were
having difficulty with sex. Yet treatment-related sexual dysfunction is not isolated to those
cancers. Studies have shown that treatments for other cancers can also affect the physical
act of sex for cancer patients and survivors, and how they feel about it.
Still, experts who address sexual function emphasize that cancer doesn’t have to
mean the end of sex or have a negative impact on relationships. “The issue for me
is that for folks who want a sex life or miss it, or feel that it was taken from them, that
Robert Ginyard started getting regular prostate cancer screen- ings when he was in his early 40s. As an African-American whose father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Ginyard had long been told he had a higher-than-average risk
of developing the disease and should get checked. In 2010, when he
was 48, a blood test revealed a jump in his prostate-specific antigen
levels. His doctor sent him to a urologist, who performed a biopsy
that revealed stage II prostate cancer.