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Phobic anxiety is linked to sexuality issues in women who are breast cancer survivors

November 05, 2018

A study carried out by a research team made up of researchers from the University of Cordoba, the Maimonides Institute of Biomedical Research (in Spanish abbreviated to IMIBIC) and Queen Sofia University Hospital revealed that sexual dysfunction suffered by women who are breast cancer survivors is linked to phobic anxiety, which nevertheless, does not affect sexual function in women with no history of cancer.

For women who have survived breast cancer, this type of anxiety can result in sexual intercourse being an unpleasant experience. These women have difficulty with excitement, lubrication, orgasms and with experiencing intercourse as a satisfying and pleasant experience.

Though there are other factors that affect sexual dysfunction in women who have undergone cancer treatment, this recently published study in the journal Psycho-Oncology points out that psychological impact can be enough to cause a problem in a woman's sexual behavior and that women can lose desire to have intercourse and try to avoid having intercourse.

University of Cordoba researcher, Ana Abril Requena, explains that "phobic anxiety is consistently linked to sexual changes in this group of patients, which proves the significance of psychosocial factors upon sexuality, causing sexual relations to be unpleasant experiences in these cases." Though it is true that certain kinds of cancer affect sexuality more than others, such as those affecting reproductive organs, this research reveals that, in the case of breast cancer, phobic anxiety is the main reason that leads to a lack of sexual drive. In this group of patients, les sexual activity and less interest in sex was observed, as well as a worse perception of one's attractiveness and femininity.

Abril points out that the discoveries made in the research "can be used to help prevent these kinds of issues and to develop more specific responses to help reduce the symptoms that negatively affect the quality of life for patients and their partners by means of, for instance, behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques."

From this study, another interesting piece of information has been shown related to women cancer survivors but not consisting in symptoms or side effects. This is that most female breast cancer survivors "are not satisfied with the quantity nor quality of the information provided to them by healthcare providers regarding breast cancer's side effects on their sexuality after being diagnosed and above all after receiving treatment. The research shows that 79.3% of the women studied professed this opinion.

This research project was carried out by means of questionnaires administered to two groups of women: one was made up of women who had been diagnosed with cancer and had finished treatment and the other was made up of women with no cancer history. Each group consisted of 30 people with an average age of 55. Most of the participants were married and there was a similar educational level in the two groups. Within the group of patients, most had undergone chemotherapy (76.7%) and/or radiation therapy (73.3%), followed by hormone therapy (60%; 23.3%) and breast-conserving surgery (50%).

This method allows for measuring different dimensions of anxiety with standardized questionnaires such as the Inventory of Situations and Responses of Anxiety (abbreviated to ISRA-B in Spanish) and the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). The former obtains information on the three systems of anxiety (cognitive, physiological and motor) and on four specific characteristics of anxiety (in assessment, interpersonal, phobic and daily life situations). The latter, FSFI, assesses six different domains: desire, excitement, lubrication, orgasms, satisfaction and pain.
Abril?Requena A, García?Torres F, Alós FJ. Sexual dysfunction and phobic anxiety in breast cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology. 2018; 1-3.

University of Córdoba

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