A cancer diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. In particular, body changes and alterations in bodily function can influence self-image. In turn, relationships and sexuality can be compromised. There is evidence that focused conversations about these consequences are not happening often between cancer patients and their health care providers in busy ambulatory settings.
This study was undertaken to explore the perspective of both cancer patients and health care professionals about conversations regarding sexuality after a cancer diagnosis. The aim was to understand about the barriers that exist to having this type of conversation in a daily practice setting.
Thirty cancer patients and 30 health care professionals participated in interviews to explore their experiences in having conversations about sexuality. Transcripts were subjected to a standard qualitative content and theme analysis.
Patients described many changes in their bodies that had the potential to impact on sexuality, but actual concerns were individualized. Few had had conversations with their providers about sexuality. Most thought it was the responsibility of the cancer care team to “open the door” to the topic area. Meanwhile, health care professionals recognized the potential for treatment related changes to have an impact on sexuality. However, they tended not to talk about the topic unless there was a requirement for informed consent prior to surgery or the patient raised the topic.
The results support the idea that conversations about sexuality between cancer patients and their providers are difficult for a number of reasons. Innovation is necessary to overcome the barriers experienced.