A recent qualitative study in Supportive Care in Cancer evaluated the self-reported sexual quality of life (SQOL) in patients with cancer. This is an underreported domain that health care providers and their patients might find difficult to discuss.
To date, research on the topic has largely focused on the “biomedical perspective, exploring the physical effects of treatment and subsequent psychological impacts,” the new study reported. However, a “neo-theoretical framework of sexuality” has proposed that there is more to SQOL than the physical effects of cancer and treatment. This study sought to use this neo-theoretical framework to evaluate the lesser understood domains of SQOL affecting these patients.
Lauren Haber and her co-authors at the School of Health and Behavioural Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Australia, enlisted 18 participants with current or past diagnoses of cancer of varying location and severity. Participants completed an online survey consisting of open-ended questions.
By compiling and analyzing the participants’ responses, the investigators were able to identify 3 main domains of SQOL: gender attachment, vulnerability, and growth versus fixed mindset.
Regarding the first domain, gender attachment, researchers found that the participants who associated SQOL with gender normative language were less likely to report good SQOL.
“Generally, the participants who conceptualised SQoL in relation to their gender role and identity used more negative language than those focused on non-gendered facets of SQoL such as intimacy and relationship quality when describing the impact of their cancer diagnosis,” Haber and colleagues reported.
The participants who reported that insecurities and poor communication were already prevalent in their relationships were more likely to describe a poor SQOL. The investigators characterized responses of this type as having to do with vulnerability, saying “these findings emphasise the importance of early assessment of patient vulnerabilities, in particular body image distress.”
Finally, the participants who tended to view SQOL as a changing, growable domain were more likely to report positive SQOL than those who viewed SQOL as fixed or used pessimistic language to describe it.
According to the study, “The perception of SQoL as fixed may prevent help-seeking behaviours in people with a cancer diagnosis and contribute to a detrimental decline in sex, intimacy, and relationship engagement. In contrast, perceiving SQoL as fluid and adaptable may support patients in navigating SQoL changes following a cancer diagnosis.”
The study concluded that “to appropriately support individuals with a cancer diagnosis, healthcare provider advice should be based on understanding the nuance of SQoL and the uniqueness of navigating sex and intimacy while simultaneously navigating a cancer diagnosis.”