Patient experiences with communication about sex during and after treatment for cancer

Psychooncology. 2012 Jun;21(6):594-601. doi: 10.1002/pon.1947. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


Objective: We studied patients' experiences with oncology providers regarding communication about sexual issues during and after treatment for cancer.

Methods: During development of the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS(®)) Sexual Function measure, we collected focus group and survey data on communication with oncology professionals about sexual problems. We conducted 16 focus groups with patients and survivors (n = 109) and analyzed the discussions for major themes, including experiences discussing sex during oncology visits. During testing of the PROMIS Sexual Function measure, we assessed experiences discussing sexual problems with oncology professionals (n = 819) and measured bivariate associations between asking for information from clinicians and sexual function and satisfaction with sex life.

Results: Most patients and survivors (74%) thought that discussions with oncology professionals about sexual problems were important, but whether they had ever received information about sexual function from a provider varied by cancer type (23% lung, 29% breast, 39% colorectal, and 79% prostate). Those who had asked an oncology professional about sexual problems had significantly greater interest in sexual activity as well as more sexual dysfunction.

Conclusions: Sexual problems are a widespread concern among patients and survivors, but there is much variation in experiences of communication about sexual issues, and many patients do not receive the information they need from their oncology providers. There are large differences in sexual function between patients who do and do not ask providers about sexual problems. Sexual health has yet to be fully integrated into oncology care, even for cancers involving sex organs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Coitus / physiology
  • Coitus / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / complications*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors