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Psychooncology. 2018 Jun;27(6):1608-1614. doi: 10.1002/pon.4700. Epub 2018 Mar 26.

Sexual and romantic challenges among young Danes diagnosed with cancer: Results from a cross-sectional nationwide questionnaire study.

Author information

Center for Sexology Research, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.
Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Research Support Unit, Zealand University Hospital, Roskilde, Denmark.
Department of Regional Health Research, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.
Center of Adolescent Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark.



The negative impact of malignant disease on sexual and relational functioning is well documented among adults but scarcely investigated among adolescents and young adults. This study explored the body image, self-perceived attractiveness, and sexual/romantic experiences of Danes diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15 to 29 years. It also aimed to clarify whether self-perceived needs for counseling were in fact met by health care providers.


All Danes who had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15 to 29 years during the period 2009 to 2013 were included in a cross-sectional nationwide questionnaire study. Eight hundred twenty-two questionnaires were returned, yielding a response rate of 45%.


More than half of the respondents (53.8%) reported that cancer had altered their body image negatively, while 44.6% felt that disease had lowered their feeling of being attractive. Nearly one-third (31.3%) and one-fourth (23.6%), respectively, had experienced a negative impact on their desire to have sex or to flirt/date/have a partner. Female responders were more affected than males on most variables, and breast cancer patients were approximately 4 times more at risk for sexual and romantic adversities than patients with melanoma of the skin. Although more than 80% indicated a need to discuss issues of sexuality and intimacy with a health professional, 49.5% and 61.7%, respectively, had talked little or not at all with professionals during hospitalization and follow-up consultations.


Young cancer patients experience sexual and romantic challenges along with a lack of self-perceived attractiveness. Their substantial need for dialogue and counselling should be met in health care settings.


adolescent and young adults; body image; cancer and oncology; counselling; sexuality


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