New research suggests that complications and preparative procedures linked to stem cell transplantation may lead to sexual dysfunction in both men and women. This is according to a study published in the journal Blood.

Researchers from the City of Hope Cancer Research Hospital in Duarte, California, say that graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) - a complication that can arise after stem cell transplantation (SCT) when donor cells attack recipient cells - could be a cause of diminished sexual health.

Furthermore, they found a link between diminished sexual health in men and total body radiation - a preparation treatment administered prior to the SCT procedure.

Stem cell transplantation is a commonly used and effective form of treatment for those suffering from blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

The procedure involves taking stem cells either from a patient's own blood or bone marrow, or a matched donor, and replacing the patient's damaged cells with healthy cells.

Effects of SCT on sexual health

The researchers note that previous studies have indicated that after this procedure, while a person may physically recover, their sexual health may be slower in returning to normal.

To look into this further, the researchers conducted a study to investigate the long-term effects of stem cell transplantation on sexual health.

The study involved 277 adults of a mean age of 48, of which 152 were men and 125 women. All patients underwent SCT for blood cancer at the City of Hope between 2001 and 2005.

Patients were asked to complete three questionnaires 17 days before the SCT procedure, and 6, 12, 24 and 36 months after the procedure.

Two questionnaires evaluated specific areas of the patients' sexual function. These included:

  • Sexual cognition/fantasy
  • Sexual arousal
  • Sexual behavior/experience
  • Orgasm
  • Sex drive/relationship.

The third questionnaire evaluated the patients' overall quality of life.

Radiation and SCT effects sexual function of men, not women

Results showed that throughout the 3-year post-transplant analysis period, the percentage of men who described themselves as "sexually active" (defined as having sex with a partner a minimum of once in the last month) declined by 7%, with 61% reporting they were sexually active before transplantation and 54% after transplantation.

However, the number of women who reported themselves as sexually active during this time increased by 15%, with 37% reporting they were sexually active before transplantation and 52% after.

In observing patients who received total body radiation, results revealed an 18% decline in the sexual function of men.

This same group also reported a 32% decline in sexual satisfaction, a 26% decline in sexual behavior/experience, a 26% decline in quality of orgasm and a 17% decline in sex drive/relationship since their transplant.

However, radiation treatment appeared to have no such effects in women. The researchers speculate that this could be due to "inherent psychological differences in the pathogenesis of sexual dysfunction among men and women."

GVHD causes sexual dysfunction in both sexes

When looking at patients who experience chronic GVHD, results showed that the complication led to a 21% decline in sexual cognition/fantasy in men, and a 24% decline in the quality of orgasm.

Women suffering from GVHD reported a 27% decline in sexual satisfaction and a 27% decline in sexual arousal.

Despite results revealing that women saw no effect on their sexual function from total body radiation and saw increased sexual activity after the SCT procedure, researchers say that women suffered significantly worse effects overall.

The researchers say that the women's increase in sexual activity could be explained by their improvement in quality of life post-transplant.

Overall, the researchers conclude that almost half of survivors who have undergone SCT are sexually inactive at 3 years after the procedure. They say the findings indicate that these patients may benefit from talking to the doctors regarding their sexual health.

Dr. Lennie Wong of the City of Hope and lead study author says:

"It is not often that the transplant team and patient will have a conversation about how this procedure could impact their sex life, even after recovery.

However, we hope these findings will help encourage patients and their doctors to openly discuss concerns related to sexual dysfunction and address them with specialists who can help."

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggest men have stronger sexual impulses that cause them to cheat on their partners.