Women receiving treatment for breast cancer often feel oncologists ignore sexual health

October 2022 Clinical Practice Nalinee Pandey

Researchers from Denver (USA) report that treatment for breast cancer adversely affects the sexual health of women undergoing treatment. Moreover, many patients said their oncologists paid less attention to these aspects during their treatment. These findings were recently published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology

Sarah Tevis, MD, assistant professor of surgical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and colleagues, has studied the education patients receive during breast cancer treatment.

Questionnaires

The study enrolled 87 patients, 44.8% between 45 and 65 years, diagnosed with stage zero to IV breast cancer and being treated at an academic breast cancer centre in December 2020.  Most of the participants were white (82.8%). These women were given questionnaires that assessed sexual health symptoms they experienced during treatment. Additionally, sixteen women participated in individual interviews (n=3) or focussed group discussions (n=13) which included questions about treatment care and the format, preference and timing of education regarding sexual health.

Decreased desire

Most women (93%) reported at least one symptom affecting sexual health. Symptoms affecting sexual health during or after treatment included:

  • decreased sexual desire (69%),
  • vaginal dryness (63%)
  • less energy for sexual activity (62%).

Furthermore, 75% of women said these symptoms affected their mental health. Most participants in the interview did not receive information about the potential sexual effects of treatment. Additionally, even those who received the information were mainly informed about menopausal symptoms or fertility symptoms.

Conclusion

These findings demonstrate that it is essential to discuss the sexual health of women during diagnosis as well as during the course of treatment.

Reference

Huynh, V., Vemuru, S., Hampanda, K. et al. ASO Visual Abstract: No One-Size-Fits-All: Sexual Health Education Preferences in Patients with Breast Cancer. Ann Surg Oncol 29, 6252–6253 (2022).

X