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Sexual functioning among early post-treatment breast cancer survivors

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Abstract

Purpose

This study aims (1) to estimate percentages of partnered women who are sexually active over the first 2 years post-breast cancer diagnosis; (2) to identify factors related to sexual inactivity; and (3) to evaluate separately, among both sexually active and inactive survivors, the relation between sexual problems and treatment-related variables, symptoms, and psychosocial factors.

Methods

Longitudinal observational study of breast cancer survivors recruited within 8 months of cancer diagnosis and followed for 18 months. The main outcome measures were (1) being sexually active/inactive in the past month and (2) sexual problems assessed with the four-item sexual problem domain of the Quality of Life in Adult Cancer Survivors (QLACS) scale.

Results

At baseline, 52.4% of women reported being sexually active in the past month. This percentage increased to 60.7% 18 months later. In multivariable repeated-measures analyses, age, past chemotherapy, depressive symptoms, and lower perceived attractiveness were related to inactivity. Sexually inactive women reported more problems on the QLACS than sexually active women. In stratified multivariable analyses, depressive symptoms were related to greater sexual problems for both sexually active and inactive women, as was vaginal dryness. Among the sexually active women, younger age at diagnosis, less illness intrusiveness, and lower perceived attractiveness were related to more problems.

Conclusions

Research has shown that sexual functioning/sexual health are key aspects of quality of life for many cancer survivors, and are often not addressed by health care providers. Future studies should examine how such topics are handled by clinicians in their interactions with survivors.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant 2R25 CA122061 and the Department of Defense grant #DAMD17-01-1-0447.

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Correspondence to Nancy E. Avis.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

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Avis, N.E., Johnson, A., Canzona, M.R. et al. Sexual functioning among early post-treatment breast cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer 26, 2605–2613 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-018-4098-0

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Keywords

  • Sexual problems
  • Breast cancer
  • Quality of life
  • Cancer survivorship