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Understanding Sexual Help-Seeking for Women With Breast Cancer: What Distinguishes Women Who Seek Help From Those Who Do Not?

      Abstract

      Background

      Sexual problems are extremely common for women after breast cancer (BC).

      Aim

      To determine, in a sample of BC outpatients, how commonly women sought help for sexual concerns, from a health care provider (HCP), from other individuals, or from alternate sources; and to examine whether help-seeking was associated with women's sexual function/activity, self-efficacy for clinical communication about sexual health, or sociodemographic/medical characteristics.

      Methods

      BC patients participating in a sexual/menopausal health communication intervention trial completed web-based baseline self-report surveys. One-way analysis of variances compared effects of the level of sexual help-seeking (none; 1 outlet; 2–3 outlets) on sexual function domains. Chi-square or t-tests compared women seeking help with those not seeking help on other study variables.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Patient-reported outcome instruments assessed sexual help-seeking (past month), sexual function and activity (PROMIS Sexual Function and Satisfaction Brief Profile Version 2.0), and self-efficacy (confidence) for communicating with their BC clinician about sexual health.

      Results

      144 women (mean age = 56.0 years; 62% partnered; 67% white; 27% black/African American; 4% Hispanic/Latina; 15% stage IV) participated in this study. 49% of women sought help for sexual concerns, most often from intimate partners, family and/or friends (42%), followed by HCPs (24%), or online/print materials (19%); very few women (n = 4; 3%) sought help only from a HCP. Women seeking help were younger and more likely to be partnered and sexually active than those not seeking help. Sexual function was impaired for all domains but was most impaired for sexual interest. Among sexually active women, those seeking help from 2 to 3 sources reported worse sexual function in certain domains (sexual interest, lubrication, vaginal discomfort, vulvar discomfort–labial, satisfaction). Women seeking help from outlets other than HCPs had significantly lower self-efficacy than those who did not.

      Clinical Implications

      BC patients with access to a partner and who are sexually active but find sex unsatisfying, uncomfortable, or lack interest may be in particular need of sexual help. Further, women may turn to outlets other than HCPs for sexual help partly because they lack the confidence to do so with a HCP. Sexual health information should be made available to women's partners, family, and friends, so they may effectively discuss such issues if needed.

      Strengths & Limitations

      Strengths of the study included examination of a range of sexual function domains and a theoretical construct in relation to BC patients' sexual help-seeking and a medically diverse sample. Limitations include a cross-sectional design.

      Conclusion

      Women treated for BC should receive accurate and timely sexual health information.
      Reese JB, Sorice KA, Pollard W, et al. Understanding Sexual Help-Seeking for Women With Breast Cancer: What Distinguishes Women Who Seek Help From Those Who Do Not? J Sex Med 2020;17:1729–1739.

      Key Words

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