About three-quarters of women with breast cancer report some degree of sexual problems, according to results released at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).
Surveys have found that anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds of healthy women experience sexual problems. Given that such problems are a known side effect of breast cancer treatments that block hormone activity, researchers wanted to know how often women with breast cancer experienced them.
Dr. Shari B. Goldfarb of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York and colleagues anonymously surveyed more than 500 women with breast cancer of any stage in outpatient clinic waiting areas at MSKCC's Breast Cancer Center and at two community centers.
Most of the women surveyed were being treated with chemotherapy, including hormone-based therapies such as tamoxifen. The disease had spread beyond the breasts in about a quarter of the women.
About three-quarters of the women - 76 percent -- had sexual problems, defined as a low score on a commonly used set of questions.
That rate is significantly higher than what is seen in healthy women, Goldfarb said.
Of women reporting sexual dysfunction, about four-fifths described their sexual symptoms as bothersome. About half of patients said that their symptoms were severely bothersome.
Typical symptoms were vaginal dryness or difficulty in becoming sexually aroused.
The study did not look at potential treatments for sexual problems such as lubricants, hormones, and counseling.
With improved treatments for breast cancer, patients are living longer, and most women treated for early-stage breast cancer will become long-term survivors, Goldfarb pointed out. For this reason, quality of life and symptoms become increasingly important in the short-term, during treatment and in the long-term throughout survivorship.