, Volume 118, Issue 1, pp 99-111

Addressing intimacy and partner communication after breast cancer: a randomized controlled group intervention

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Abstract

While quality of life for most breast cancer survivors (BCS) returns to normal by 1 year post-treatment, problems in sexual function and intimacy often persist. The present study tested the efficacy of a 6-week psycho-educational group intervention in improving BCS’s sexual well-being. We conducted a mailed survey of BCS 1–5 years post-diagnosis to identify a sample of women who reported moderately severe problems in body image, sexual function or partner communication, and were deemed eligible for the randomized intervention trial. Using a pre-randomized design, 70% (n = 284) were assigned to a 6-week psycho-educational group intervention and 30% (n = 127) were assigned to a control condition (print material only); however, only 83 BCS agreed to participate in the intervention. Four months post-intervention, the intervention and control groups were not significantly different on the primary outcome of emotional functioning; however, BCS randomized to the intervention group were more likely to report improvements in relationship adjustment and communication as well as increased satisfaction with sex compared to controls. Members of the intervention group who were the least satisfied with their sexual relationship appeared to improve the most. Although modest in its effects, this intervention can be delivered in standard clinical settings. Having an identified treatment may help reduce physician reluctance to ask BCS about problems in intimacy and as appropriate, refer them for timely help.