Psychosocial Approach to Sexual Dysfunction During and After Cancer Treatment

Commentary
Podcast

Jenifer A. Vencill, PhD, LP, highlighted that sexual dysfunction can negatively impact patients' quality of life, and how she aims to bring more awareness to this issue.

Sexual dysfunction is a common problem for patients with and survivors of cancer that often remains undertreated. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including reduced libido, sexual pain, and vaginal dryness. Jennifer A. Vencill, PhD, LP, takes a biopsychosocial approach to sexual health, helping to address the psychological aspects of sexual dysfunction.

In this episode of the ONCOLOGY On the Go Podcast, Vencill, a psychologist and sex therapist from the Mayo Clinic, spoke with CancerNetwork® about the multidisciplinary approach her team takes to address sexual dysfunction in patients, which includes a psychologist/sex therapist, medical providers, nurse educators, and pelvic floor physical therapists who can provide comprehensive care and support to help patients manage sexual dysfunction and improve their quality of life.

Often, patients will avoid seeking help as there are social stigmas associated with sexual dysfunction, Vencill says. She emphasizes the importance of talking about sexual health openly to her patients and colleagues, as well as educating the public about these challenges. Sometimes these diagnoses may be overlooked, as medical oncologists do not have much time with patients during follow-up appointments, as patients and clinicians may be more concerned about treatment options or risk of recurrence than asking about sexual health.

To help diagnose the sexual dysfunction, Vencill will refer patients to get a full body check-up to ensure there are no underlying physical issues. This is where the pelvic floor physical therapist comes into play, as they will help address any physical needs while Vencill can address mental needs. Once that is done, she will begin to treat them and help them to adapt to a “new normal” following their cancer treatment.

Looking towards the future, Vencill hopes to see a more normalized and open dialogue about sexual health. She also encourages patients with cancer and survivors to be flexible and adaptable in their sexual relationships, as their sexual experiences may change after cancer treatment.

“[Life during or after treatment] requires some flexibility, some adaptability, some rethinking of the script that they were used to around sex,” Vencill said. “When we get stuck in those rigid scripts, we often don’t have much room for growth and exploration. The new sexual normal after cancer treatment might look very different from what you’re used to. Sometimes that's a good thing.”

Related Videos
An AI-based system may reduce the time needed to match patients with cancer to suitable clinical trials.
Cancer vaccines are a “cross-cutting approach” that may be applicable across several cancer types, according to Catherine J. Wu, MD.
mRNA may be a potential modality for developing cancer-based vaccines, according to Catherine J. Wu, MD.
Analyzing the KRAS mutation across various cancer types may be a worthwhile target when using a cancer vaccine or immunotherapy, says Catherine J. Wu, MD.
The AACR Health Disparities Report highlights the changes needed to achieve health equity for patients with cancer.
Robert A. Winn, MD, gives insight into how institutions and community practices can improve access to cancer care.
In the October edition of Snap Recap, we review the latest FDA news and the vote from the last ODAC meeting.