Body image and sexual function in women after treatment for anal and rectal cancer

Psychooncology. 2016 Mar;25(3):316-23. doi: 10.1002/pon.3847. Epub 2015 May 14.


Objective: Treatment for anal and rectal cancer (ARCa) often results in side effects that directly impact sexual functioning; however, ARCa survivors are an understudied group, and factors contributing to the sexual sequelae are not well understood. Body image problems are distressing and may further exacerbate sexual difficulties, particularly for women. This preliminary study sought to (1) describe body image problems, including sociodemographic and disease/treatment correlates, and (2) examine relations between body image and sexual function.

Methods: For the baseline assessment of a larger study, 70 women completed the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Core Quality of Life Questionnaire and Colorectal Cancer-specific Module, including the Body Image subscale, and Female Sexual Function Index. Pearson's correlation and multiple regression evaluated correlates of body image. Among sexually active women (n = 41), hierarchical regression examined relations between body image and sexual function domains.

Results: Women were on average 55 years old (standard deviation = 11.6), non-Hispanic White (79%), married (57%), and employed (47%). The majority (86%) reported at least one body image problem. Younger age, lower global health status, and greater severity of symptoms related to poorer body image (p's < 0.05). Poor body image was inversely related to all aspects of sexual function (β range 0.50-0.70, p's < 0.05), except pain. The strongest association was with Female Sexual Function Index Sexual/Relationship Satisfaction.

Conclusion: These preliminary findings suggest the importance of assessing body image as a potentially modifiable target to address sexual difficulties in this understudied group. Further longitudinal research is needed to inform the development and implementation of effective interventions to improve the sexual health and well-being of female ARCa survivors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anus Neoplasms / psychology
  • Anus Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Marriage
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / psychology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / etiology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology*