One third of women with breast cancer have been using pre-evaluated and self-evaluated techniques to elevate sexual functioning, according to a breast cancer support forum. Alongside this, one third of breast cancer survivors within the breast cancer support forum reported having some range of sexual dysfunction.
Medical professionals have been reducing the severity of these symptoms by prescribing vaginal lubricants and numbing creams, although this only remains slightly effective. Alongside this, women have reported that they have trouble discussing sexual dysfunction symptoms with their clinicians.
Members of Breastcancer.org, the online forum community, who were studied by von Hippel and the team consisted of women who were 18 years old and diagnosed with stage 1-4 breast cancer. The main objective of the survey was to indicate the cycles of sexual dysfunction within the patient population. Another objective within the study was to investigate how the patient population focus on improving these sexual dysfunctions.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE by Christiana von Hippel from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, with the help of additional colleagues.
The study included 501 women, the median age being 53 years old. Seventy percent of the participant group was sexually active during the time of the survey, 69% heterosexual, 65% had a partner and 71% white.
When answering questions within the forum, 47% of the patients surveyed revealed that they were satisfied with their sex lives before a cancer diagnosis, and 44% of the patient population revealed that their sex life has decreased since the time of their diagnosis. Only 25% of the population discussed their sexual function concerns — such as vaginal dryness and penetration pain — to their medical professionals; 57% of individuals mentioned that they had never spoken with medical professionals about the side effects of sexual functionality after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer who are struggling with sexual functionality have also taken advice from peers. About 35% of participants used techniques that were given by peers or self-evaluated in order to improve sexual functionality.
“Women with breast cancer are taking the initiative to fill the gap in their care for sexual symptoms by seeking, innovating, and sharing solutions amongst themselves,” stated the authors within the study.
Forty-six percent of participants rated their own techniques as more effective in comparison to or in addition to clinical advice by medical professionals, according to the study.
Four domains were created after evaluation within the study: pain reduction (using lubricant to reduce symptoms), intimacy and relationship enhancement (proactive communication with partners), desire and arousal enhancement (improving the sexual experience) and emotional coping (shift in outlook), according to the study.
Medical professionals reiterate the importance of communication via patient to health care provider when it comes to sexual health with patients with breast cancer.
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