Every year, nearly 90,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with a gynecological cancer. These cancers include cancer of the cervix, uterus, ovaries, vagina, and vulva; treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgeries.
If a woman is diagnosed with this type of cancer she may not think about how it will affect her intimate relationships. However Dr. Saketh Guntupalli, MD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and assistant professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the CU School of Medicine, has found that there may be a negative impact on sexual health after treatment for gynecological cancer.
“Typically patients do well after treatment,” says Guntupalli. “However some of them found that they have problems with sexual function.”
Guntupalli became interested in exploring sexual dysfunction after cancer treatment when he noticed an increase of couple dissatisfaction and divorces in some of his patients. He was granted $80,000 by the Patty Brisben Foundation for the pilot study.
“This is a subject that no one has really looked into,” explains Guntupalli. “However it is a very real problem for women going through cancer treatment.”
The first step of the study is to gather as much information as possible from patients who are willing to participate.
“We have put together surveys and sent them out to local patients as well as different locations around the United States including Los Angeles and New York,” Guntupalli explains. “We want to find out how cancer treatments affect sexual dysfunction in women all over the nation.”
Dina Flink, a research coordinator in the Guntupalli lab, has been a key player in writing and sending out surveys to patients across the United States.
“The survey that we put out is a sexual health survey,” Flink explains. “It helps us measure things such as satisfaction, sexual function, and how intimate bonds are affected by cancer treatment.”
Once enough information is collected the next step is to figure out what type of intervention is needed for couples going through a cancer diagnoses. Preliminary ideas such as support groups and pre-treatment counseling may help couples keep their bond strong during and after treatment.
“I believe that this is important because here at the CU Cancer Center there is a strong emphasis on survivorship and quality of life after cancer,” says Flink. “We want to help people lead normal lives after treatment.”