Sexual functioning in breast cancer survivors experiencing body image disturbance

Psychooncology. 2016 Jan;25(1):66-76. doi: 10.1002/pon.3819. Epub 2015 Apr 27.


Background: Breast cancer treatments and the traumatic nature of the cancer experience frequently elicit considerable sexual difficulties. Breast cancer survivors (BCS) experiencing body image (BI) issues may represent a vulnerable group for developing sexual dysfunction posttreatment. The current study explores sexual functioning (SF) in this unique clinical group.

Methods: A descriptive study assessed 127 BCS who were engaged in sexual activity. Standardized baseline measures included the following: BI Scale, BI after Breast Cancer Questionnaire, Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale, and Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy - Breast. Levels of SF were compared with BCS, heterogeneous cancer, and healthy female populations. Correlational analyses were conducted between SF, BI, relationship, and health-related quality of life variables. Guided by a conceptual framework, regression analyses were conducted to determine significant demographic, clinical, and psychosocial predictors of sexual desire, satisfaction, and overall SF.

Results: Eighty-three per cent of BCS met the FSFI clinical cutoff score for a sexual dysfunction. Participants exhibited poorer SF when compared with other female cancer and healthy groups. No significant correlations were found between BI questionnaire total scores and SF. BI after Breast Cancer Questionnaire - Body Stigma subscale showed significant associations with FSFI Arousal, Orgasm, Satisfaction (average r = -0.23), and overall SF (r = -0.25). Vaginal dryness (β = -0.50), body stigma (β = -0.24), and relationship satisfaction (β = 0.27) were significant predictors of overall SF.

Conclusion: Difficulties in SF appear to be highly prevalent in BCS experiencing BI disturbance posttreatment. Brief screening tools assessing SF should adopt a biopsychosocial model, which includes questions regarding vaginal dryness, relationship satisfaction, and body stigma issues.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data