Prevalence and correlates of sexual morbidity in long-term breast cancer survivors

Psychol Health. 2014;29(6):632-50. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.879136. Epub 2014 Jan 28.


Objective: Breast cancer survivors report adverse sexual effects (sexual morbidity) such as disrupted sexual function, sexual distress and body dissatisfaction. However, most studies have failed to evaluate the persistence of these effects in long-term survivors. The present study comprehensively assessed the prevalence and predictors of sexual/body image problems among survivors three or more years post diagnosis.

Design/outcome measures: Eighty-three breast cancer survivors completed surveys a median of seven years post diagnosis. Survey items probed demographic, diagnostic and clinical information, in addition to sexual activity, sexual function (Female Sexual Function Index [FSFI]), body image, and distress regarding body changes and sexual problems (Female Sexual Distress Scale-revised; FSDS-R).

Results: Seventy-seven percent of all participants and 60% of sexually active participants qualified for sexual dysfunction based on the FSFI. Between 37 and 51% met criteria for female sexual dysfunction, based on two FSDS-R clinical cut-offs. Body satisfaction was worse than normative values, while body change stress was mid-range. Notable sexual morbidity predictors included mastectomy, which was associated with worse sexual/body change distress, and post-treatment weight gain, which predicted greater body dissatisfaction/body change stress.

Conclusions: Breast cancer survivors report substantial sexual morbidity years after treatment, especially after mastectomy or post-treatment weight gain. Breast cancer patients and their providers should be aware of these potential sexual effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / psychology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors