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Sex after Recurrence
Women with breast cancer maintain sexual lives after recurrence, according to new findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (July 20).
The study was the first longitudinal, controlled study of sexuality in women coping with breast cancer relapse and is a sharp reminder that sex is an important part of women’s lives, even after recurrence.
“Some people think women diagnosed with recurrence are just focused on their survival and not much of anything else,” says Barbara Andersen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Ohio State University and principal investigator of the study. “Of course they’re focused on survival, but that doesn’t mean everything else is off the table. It’s clearly not.”
Researchers from Ohio State compared 60 breast cancer patients with recurrence to 120 patients without, interviewing them after 4, 8 and 12 months. While the recurrence group had sex less often—once a month compared to twice a month among women without recurrence—they did have sex, and women in both groups kissed their partners with the same frequency. That’s important because kissing is strongly correlated with relationship satisfaction. Women kissed their partners an average of once a day and, while they described their sex lives as somewhat inadequate, reported that they were very happy with their relationships.
Many studies have shown that after a cancer diagnosis, sexuality declines and does not improve over time. The point that women need to remember, Andersen says, is that even though their sex lives may not be what they once were, cancer—and even recurrence—does not mean that sexual relationships stop altogether or lose their importance.
The most recent findings should offer hope and encouragement to women living with breast cancer, Andersen says. Women in the study didn’t receive any interventions to help them with their sex lives, yet managed to persevere. “Women with cancer work hard to maintain their sexual lives,” she says. “They’re not willing to have it fall by the wayside.”