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The Impact of Breast Cancer On Sexual Health & A Research Opportunity

Recently I was contacted by a young woman, a doctoral candidate in health communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She asked me to assist her in finding participants for her research project which is focusing on breast cancer survivorship and sexual health.

How could I say no?

Most of us realize the heavy toll breast cancer takes on every aspect of a woman’s life, including her sexual health.

In Cancerland, the topic of sex is one that thankfully is being brought up more and more frequently these days, but it’s still mostly an avoided one.

My doctors certainly never brought it up.

Did yours?

No doubt about it, sex can be an awkward topic to tackle, but yet our silence only makes it more so.

Of course when going through cancer treatment, tackling the cancer has to be the top concern, but it seems ironic that when breasts are the focus of the disease and treatment, there is still often little or no discussion about the impact of all this on a woman’s total well-being, including her sexual health.

When you think about it, how could breast cancer not impact a woman’s sexual health?

And yet, we still dance around the topic and mostly just avoid it altogether.

But back to this study…

This particular study involves taking a short online survey.

The questions are, of course, very personal in nature, so you need to feel comfortable with this. At the conclusion of the survey, participants will be asked if they would be willing to do a telephone interview as well. Of course this, too, is voluntary.

The aim of the study is to better understand how survivors manage sexual health concerns after completing primary treatment, a time when they may have less access to oncologists and when they may be trying to rebuild their sexual selves, renegotiate relationships and find balance. Two hospitals have agreed to allow this researcher to design and test a new training program for physicians based on the insights of patients.

As the researcher said to me in her own words:

This project is personal for me and I care deeply about this issue. Breast cancer runs in my family. I know that many important issues are difficult to talk about and may fall through the cracks when we’re faced with so many other challenges. My doctoral committee has cautioned me against examining such a sensitive topic, but I truly feel those are the topics we need to discuss so that people do not suffer in silence.

Do not suffer in silence; gosh, I wonder how many times I’ve said that right here on this blog!

So again, how could I say no?

You know that old saying, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem?

Well, what could be easier than filling out a survey and thus becoming part of the solution?

Here is the project website:  Sexual Health in Breast Cancer Survivorship. Click on the link for further information about this project and about this researcher. It will also lead you to the survey link.

I hope you’ll take a look at the survey and consider adding your voice by filling it out.

If you’re not comfortable doing so, you can still help by sharing this post or the info in it.

Thank you from both of us!

Has breast cancer impacted your sexual health?

Do you take part in surveys, why or why not?

Would you like to read more posts on this topic? 

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19 thoughts on “The Impact of Breast Cancer On Sexual Health & A Research Opportunity

  1. Thank you for posting this, Nancy. We are finding that sexual health is an extremely important issue for women of all ages and that women, their partners, and medical providers alike often have trouble talking about this issue. Through this project we hope to shed light on the problem, create trainings for clinicians who treat survivors, and give patients the resources they need to cope. If you have any questions/concerns about participating or just want to chat about the project please do not hesitate to contact me at any time! mcanzona@gmu.edu

  2. I’m truly surprised her doctoral committee advised against studying this. Strange, so strange. But I’m glad she is going ahead regardless. I’m also very glad to see this subject being raised again and again. ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, I’m not that surprised by the committee’s hesitancy and I applaud Mollie for going forward with it despite their hesitancy. Like you, I’m very glad to see this topic being addressed more and more. Finally. It’s about time. And by the way, your post on this topic, that might be my favorite one. You were asking about our favorites recently, right? Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. My doctors never raised the topic. I don’t think it had an impact for me. I had relationships with two men after breast cancer, one while I was doing radiation. They each lasted a couple years or more and I ended each relationship myself. They wanted to get married and I did not.

    1. Betty, My doctors didn’t either. Doctors should be asking IMO. I’m glad to hear the impact for you hasn’t been an issue. I’m glad you know what you want, regarding marriage I mean. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I had become aware of Mollie’s survey and filed it out. I teach medical students, and we teach them to take a sexual history, and they notice in the clinical setting that it’s almost never done.
    I find myself greatly impacted–more due to my hysterectomy, which was done for tamoxifen induced endometrial cancer.
    I’ve tried to raise the issue with my providers and only my gyn will even try and touch on it.
    I’m reading the Breast Cancer Alphabet, and she does a great chapter on it.
    I’m surprised at the advisors having reservations. It’s a big issue with reproductive cancers–>50%, due to a multitude of factors.

    1. Kira, Thank you for filling out the survey. It’s such an important topic and it’s most definitely one that needs further discussion, research and yes, solutions.

  5. I’d definitely be interested in more posts on this topic. We are a young couple who had a wonderful and wild sex life, then cancer took it away.

    I don’t find her any less attractive, and I still desire her just as much, but her libido disappeared. Treatment ended about five months ago, and things are slowly improving. Her body is still recovering, but at this point it seems to me that her diminished libido has more to do with depression, self-esteem issues and the emotional overload, and I believe and hope we’ll get our mojo back. Scratch that, clinging to our old life does no good, make that “we’ll get a new mojo”!

    However, she has the BRCA mutation, so within 3-4 years she’ll have to remove her breasts (she kept most of her breast when her tumor was removed) and worse, the ovaries, which will bring about menopause and a whole new host of sexual challenges, as well as other problems. Menopause doesn’t seem to have slowed down my mother, so I’m hoping that won’t be the end of our sex life, but it’s definitely something we’ll deal with for a very long time and I’m only now really starting to understand, so again, I’d welcome more posts on this.

    1. Tiago, Fortunately, this topic is being addressed more and more. My advice to you and your wife would be to have very frank conversations with her doctors about this too. There is help out there, but usually you have to ask for it – really seek it out. The topic of sex is still quite often one that’s avoided. Again, never settle.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Tiago. A lot of couples have difficulties managing these challenges (both with medical providers and within their relationships). I agree with Nancy. It’s important to have frank conversations with your providers. Unfortunately, sometimes they do not bring up the sexual health implications of treatments as much as they should. In the second phase of this project we’ll be talking (confidentially) to the the spouses/partners of breast cancer patients to get their perspectives. We’ll use those insights to improve sexual health care. If you’re interested in participating please feel free to contact me at mcanzona@gmu.edu. We also plan to create resources for patients and their partners. When the project is complete I will share that information with Nancy. I hope it will be helpful to you.

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