More than half of young adult cancer patients reported ongoing problems related to sexual function during the first 2 years after their cancer diagnosis, according to a study published in Cancer.
“Our findings reflect the complexity of adjusting and coping with cancer for young adults, and we recommend additional research to examine the differential effects of cancer on sex and sexuality for men, women, and transgender young people,” wrote Chiara Acquati, PhD, of the University of Houston, Texas, and colleagues.
Both cancer symptoms and treatment-related physical difficulties can affect healthy sexual development and function among adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients with cancer. With this study, Acquati and colleagues examined the prevalence of sexual dysfunction and aimed to identify variables that contributed to sexual dysfunction in this patient group.
The Medical Outcomes Study Sexual Functioning Scale was completed by young adult patients aged 18 to 39 within 4 months of diagnosis (n = 123), at 6 months (n = 107), and 24 months (n = 95).
At baseline, 52% of respondents reported some degree of problem with sexual functioning and at 6 months this increased to 54.2%. After 2 years, 52.6% of respondents still reported some degree of affected sexual functioning. There was an increased probability of sexual dysfunction over time (P < .001).
A greater probability of sexual dysfunction was associated with patients who were female (P < .001), older (P < .01), married or in a committed relationship (P < .001), treated with chemotherapy (P < .05), and reporting comorbid psychological distress (P < .001) and lower social support (P < .05).
Among women, being in a relationship increased the likelihood of reporting sexual problems over time; however for men, the likelihood increased over time regardless of their relationship status.
“This suggests that sexual functioning is experienced differently by sex,” the researchers wrote. “Although the results confirm that sexual problems are reported by cancer patients involved in a relationship, the diverging trends for women and men not in a relationship direct the attention toward male patients because this group may be at higher risk for long-term sexual problems.”
According to the researchers, “embarrassment and limited training among providers have contributed to the current lack of attention” to sexual dysfunction in AYA cancer patients.
“This study emphasizes the need to implement protocols that monitor sexual functioning throughout a continuum of care and connect patients to psychosocial interventions alleviating the life disruptions caused by cancer and its treatment,” they concluded.