Communication about sexuality and intimacy in couples affected by lung cancer and their clinical-care providers

Psychooncology. 2011 Feb;20(2):179-85. doi: 10.1002/pon.1787.


Objective: Little is known about the effects of lung cancer on intimate and sexual relationships. This study explores health-care provider, patient, and partner perspectives on: (1) the effects of lung cancer on physical and emotional intimacy, (2) the ways in which intimacy affects the experience of living with lung cancer, and (3) communication about intimacy and sexuality in the context of lung cancer.

Methods: Qualitative, in-depth interviews with eight cancer-care providers and 13 married couples (ages 43-79) affected by lung cancer were conducted and audiotaped in the clinical setting. Interviews were transcribed, iteratively analyzed, and coded according to the above domains. Coding was performed independently by members of an interdisciplinary team; inter-rater reliability was assessed using the kappa statistic; and analyses were summarized by domain.

Results: Most cancer-care providers and couples affected by lung cancer believed intimacy and sexuality issues were salient, yet few reported discussing these. Couples described negative and positive effects of cancer on intimacy. Negative effects were driven by cancer or its treatment, including physical and psychological effects. Positive effects included an increase in non-coital physical closeness and appreciation of the spouse. Age was perceived as an important factor influencing the relationship between lung cancer and intimacy.

Conclusions: Emotional intimacy and sexuality are important concerns for couples affected by lung cancer. The findings suggest previously unrecognized positive effects of lung cancer on emotional and physical intimacy. Couples affected by lung cancer and providers believe these issues are relevant for lung cancer care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Communication*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Love*
  • Lung Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Male
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Spouses / psychology