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Sex Health Information is “Important” to Most Head and Neck Cancer Survivors

Sex Health Information is “Important” to Most Head and Neck Cancer SurvivorsHow can healthcare providers better serve their head and neck cancer patients who have sexual concerns?

A research team considered that question for a recent Journal of Sexual Medicine study.

Head and neck cancer can affect various areas, including the mouth, tongue, throat, voice box, sinuses, and salivary glands. Many patients have concerns about relationships and sex after treatment. They may feel awkward about their body, and their ability to speak or swallow might change. Socializing and communicating through facial expressions may become difficult. Fatigue and anxiety may diminish sex drive.

Unfortunately, head and neck cancer patients don’t always get the sex health information they need from their doctors.

For the study, the researchers asked 81 head and neck cancer survivors to answer questions about their information preferences. The participants also gave feedback on questionnaires that healthcare providers often use with head and neck cancer patients.

The participants included 38 women, 42 men, and one person who chose not to identify as a particular gender. They ranged in age from 38 to 62 years. The median time from their cancer diagnosis was 18 months. Over half had had surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy in their treatment.

Over 80% of the participants said that receiving sex health information was important, and most preferred to receive that information at the time of their cancer diagnosis.  About half said they’d like to get information from their healthcare provider, with nurses and psychologists/counselors as second and third choices.

How did participants prefer to receive information? Discussions with providers, printed material, and digital media were the first, second, and third choices.

The participants also completed and reviewed four assessment tools, rating them positively for the most part. Some explained that questions didn’t always apply to single respondents. Others suggested that assessment tools have sections specifically for people who were disfigured from their head and neck cancer.

“The patient-provider relationship is at the crux of the issue,” the authors wrote.  They encouraged healthcare providers to discuss sexuality at various times during the treatment process and to refer patients to sex health specialists if necessary.


International Society for Sexual Medicine

“Does treatment for head and neck cancers affect a person’s sexuality?”

The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Rhoten, Bethany A., PhD, RN, et al.

“Priorities and Preferences of Patients With Head and Neck Cancer for Discussing and Receiving Information About Sexuality and Perception of Self-Report Measures”

(Full-text. Published: May 14, 2020)