Doctors 'do not adequately prepare' women for life after gynaecological cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Women who have undergone treatment for vaginal or cervical cancer would welcome more advice on how the disease might affect their sex life, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that, while the majority of cancer survivors were pleased with the quality of their cancer care, they would have liked more emotional support and information about the effects of the treatment on their sexual relationships.

The researchers collected questionnaires from 162 women, most of whom had been treated with surgery or radiation therapy for a rare form of vaginal or cervical cancer while in their late teens.

Nearly three quarters - 74 per cent - said that doctors ought to initiate discussions about sex. Yet 62 per cent claimed that their doctor had never raised the issue.

Dr Stacy Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Chicago, said: "We found that these women valued sexuality and participated in sexual relationships and activities at a rate similar to women who had not been through cancer treatment, but they were not adequately prepared for the sexual issues that their cancer or its treatment introduced.

"Discussions with a physician about sexual consequences of cancer and cancer treatment matter a great deal to many of these patients," Dr Lindau continued. "But survivors report that such conversations infrequently occurred."

Reporting in the journal Gynecologic Oncology, the researchers revealed that women who had not discussed sex with their doctor were three times more likely to have difficulties, such as discomfort or bladder infections, than those who had been able to talk about the issue.

However, they noted that cancer survivors were just as likely to be married and sexually active as members of a control group.

Professor Arthur Herbst, former chairman of obstetrics and gynaecology at the university, added: "These study findings are new and document a real need."