Breast cancer

17 February 2011

Sexual issues not addressed in cancer survivors

Many women who survive breast or gynaecologic cancers say they want help for sexual issues, but few of them actually ask for it, according to a new study.


Many women who survive breast or gynaecologic cancers say they want help for sexual issues, but few of them actually ask for it, according to a new study from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Few doctors have the expertise to discuss women's concerns about the effect of cancer on their sexuality, although doctors routinely bring up such questions among men treated for prostate cancer, senior author Dr Stacy Tessler Lindau, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, said in a medical centre news release.

"It is critical that physicians caring for [female] cancer patients know that sexual concerns are often physical," she said. "The physical problems associated with cancer treatment can strain relationships, cause worry and stress, and can be very isolating -- many women come to us feeling ashamed, guilty, or alone. They feel like the problem is primarily in their head."

Pain, vaginal dryness, loss of desire, arousal and orgasm difficulties, and body image concerns are among the sexual problems experienced by these patients. Some have also reported feeling less attractive after treatment.

The study involved 261 gynaecologic and breast cancer survivors, ages 21 to 88, with the average age of 55. Researchers found that 42% were interested in receiving medical help for sexual issues, but only 7% asked for advice.

Women who had been out of cancer treatment for more than a year were much more likely to want advice than those currently in treatment -- 47 vs. 32%.

Younger women were more concerned about sexual issues than older women, but more than 22% of women over 65 also said they wanted medical care for their sexual issues, said the researchers.

The study was recently published online in the journal Cancer.

"Some women have the courage to raise sexual concerns with their doctor, although repeated studies show they prefer the doctor to initiate the discussion," said Lindau.

"Physicians will often empathise with a patient's concerns, but struggle with a lack of knowledge about how to help," she added. She and other physicians in Illinois are working to establish a program to help both doctors and female cancer patients deal with these issues.

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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