Grand Rounds

Sexuality, Lung Cancer, and the Older Adult: An Unlikely Trio?

Anna Cathy Williams, RN, MSNc, PHN, Karen Reckamp, MD, Bonnie Freeman, MSN, RN, ANP-BC, CHPN, Rupinder Sidhu, MSW, LCSW, and Marcia Grant, RN, DNSc, FAAN

From City of Hope, Duarte, California

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence to: Anna Cathy Williams, RN, MSNc, PHN, Department of Cancer Control & Population Sciences, City of Hope, 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010. E-mail:

J Adv Pract Oncol 2013;4:331–340 | DOI: 10.6004/jadpro.2013.4.5.5 | © 2013 Harborside Press®




Mrs. L. is a 60-year-old retired female teacher with stage IIIA squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, status postchemoradiation. She recently developed radiation pneumonitis, which was managed conservatively, and she did not require steroids. Mrs. L. has noted some progression of her underlying dyspnea. She is monitoring her oxygen saturation at home, and most of the time it is in the range of 94% to 96%. On one occasion only, her oxygen dropped to 88% and rapidly improved to the mid-90s. Her cough has improved for the past 4 to 6 weeks. She denies sputum production, congestion, or fever. Mrs. L. does not require a walker and uses a wheelchair only for long distances. She has occasional, slight dysphagia. A recent CT scan shows stable disease, and she is to return to the clinic in 2 months for restaging and possible further chemotherapy. 

Mrs. L. and her husband have been married for 33 years, and they have been very close. Until recently, they have continued to be sexually active and very intimate with each other. Since Mrs. L.’s diagnosis, and during treatment, the couple have become extremely stressed and psychologically spent. The act of sexual intercourse has ceased, yet they have attempted to remain close and maintain open communication. In addition to Mrs. L.’s increasing dyspnea, she has also suffered a great deal of fatigue and depression, along with alopecia and vaginal atrophy, due to the chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Both Mr. and Mrs. L. are very distressed over the change in their sexual lives. Mr. L. has mentioned that he now feels more like a “nursemaid” than a husband or lover. Mrs. L. has made concerted efforts to maintain intimacy with her husband, but her fatigue is profound. She has taken to sleeping in the living room, sitting up on the couch, as it relieves her dyspnea to some degree.

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