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For Healthcare Providers: Female Cancer Patients and Sexual Health

For Healthcare Providers: Female Cancer Patients and Sexual HealthIn 2015, there were an estimated 7.5 million female cancer survivors in the United States. And with strides in treatment protocols and earlier detection, experts estimate that the number could grow to over 9.6 million by 2024.

But experts also point out the need to address the sexual health of cancer survivors. In 2017, the journal Oncology published a paper that discussed some of the sexual health challenges women may be coping with.

What types of sexual problems occur?

Based on theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the authors explained three general categories of female sexual dysfunction:

  • Problems with sexual interest or arousal
  • Genital and pelvic pain, pain with penetration
  • Problems with orgasm

For diagnosis, women must have symptoms for at least six months and feel distress over their situation.

How are sexual problems assessed?

Broaching the subject of sexual health can be awkward for both patient and provider. The PLISSIT model is a framework that can get the conversation started:

  • Permission – The provider asks the patient if it is okay to discuss sexual health.
  • Limited Information – The provider explains sexual function in general terms.
  • Specific Suggestions – The provider discusses possible treatments and strategies.
  • Intensive Therapy – The provider suggests referral to a specialist.

Providers should also take a thorough medical history, asking about other health conditions, medications, social conditions, and partner relationships.

Questionnaires like the Brief Sexual Symptom Checklist for Women and the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) may also be considered, the authors said, adding that the FSFI has been adapted for women with breast cancer.

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