Few Patients With Breast Cancer Are Educated on Treatments' Impacts on Sexual Health

August 8, 2022
Miranda Lankas
Miranda Lankas

Miranda Lankas, Assistant Editor for CURE®, started at MJH Life sciences in August 2022. She completed an undergraduate and Master of Arts degree in literature at Temple University. Miranda’s passions include embroidery, color guard, and picking up new languages. Email her in English, French, or Japanese at mlankas@mjhlifesciences.com.

Although very few patients are informed about the effects that breast cancer treatments may have on their sexual health, many patients expressed wanting that information throughout all stages of their treatment, according to study findings.

Few patients with breast cancer receive adequate information about the potential effects that treatment may have on their sexual health, according to newly released study results.

The data — which were published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology — also identified that the education patients receive about the effects of breast cancer treatments is insignificant.

The study consisted of a questionnaire as well as interviews and focus groups. In total, 87 patients filled out the questionnaire and 16 patients were interviewed by the investigators.

The patients were mostly younger than 65 (85%), married (67%), White (83%) and heterosexual (98%), but the amount of time since their initial diagnosis varied from less than one year to more than four years.

More than half of the survey respondents reported that they underwent surgery (86%), received chemotherapy (71%) and/or endocrine therapy (66%). Most of the respondents (93%) reported a symptom that negatively affected their sexual health.

The most common symptoms the respondents said they experienced included decreased sexual desire (69%), vaginal dryness (63%) or less energy for sexual activity (62%).

When asked by the investigators about when they would ideally like to receive education on the effects breast cancer treatment has on sexual health, most (73%) said they wanted to be informed of the risks early after their diagnosis.

Most of the respondents noted that their oncology team or health care providers failed to give them any information about the possible sexual health side effects associated with breast cancer treatment.

For patients who received any information, it was more focused on fertility preservation and menopause and not sexual health or pleasure.

“(Patients should) understand that these symptoms and side effects of treatment are incredibly common and that there are ways to mitigate and treat these symptoms,” study author Dr. Sarah Tevis, a breast surgical oncologist at the UCHealth Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center in Aurora, Colorado, said in an interview with CURE®.

Tevis urged patients that they should not be afraid to raise the topic of sexual health with their oncology team.

Give Patients Options

The patients in the study suggested that many different educational resources be offered to patients, including the creation of support groups, videos, pamphlets and documents to be distributed at the doctor’s office, and the implementation of routine sexual health questions during their appointments.

One interviewee reported, “I feel that it would be best to have several avenues available. Then you could choose what you feel most comfortable with.”

As a result of the survey responses and subsequent interviews, Tevis noted that the University of Colorado is partnering with the nonprofit organization Catch It In Time to create sexual health videos for both patients with cancer and health care professionals.

“The video series will cover what to expect with breast cancer surgery and how to actively prepare for surgery, managing sexual health symptoms related to breast cancer treatments, and navigating relationships and dating,” Tevis explained. “We hope to have the videos completed by the end of the summer and plan to pilot test the videos in women with breast cancer this fall. If patients find the videos acceptable and appropriate, we plan to make them widely available online.”

She said that there will be four videos in this series with the potential to cover other cancer types and treatments in the future.

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