A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer found younger women may be more likely than older women to experience sexual and marital dysfunction after cancer treatment. The finding suggests that women, specifically those who are younger, should be well informed of the possible sexual side effects of treatments for gynecologic cancers, so that they and their partners can be better prepared.

“These findings show that there needs to be a focus on intimacy after cancer,” says 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. “Intimacy is a normal and important part of healthy relationships. Treating sexual dysfunction is an important part or survivorship.”

In the study 328 patients with gynecologic cancer participated in a 181 item survey measuring their sexual and marital function from diagnosis to post-treatment. Results from the Female Sexual Dysfunction Index showed that among all women, sexual function declined from a score of 21.3 to 15.3. Additionally, among all women sexual activity decreased from 6.1 times to 2.6 times per month. Of the 208 women who were sexually active during the time of the study, sexual dysfunction after treatment was associated with younger women (50.9 years versus 57.3 years). Specifically, 72.8 percent of younger patients that had gone through chemotherapy reported sexual dysfunction compared to 50.4 percent of older patients. The study also found that among women in relationships, 27 percent experienced marital dysfunction.

“These results from the study suggest that doctors and patients need to have an open line of communication about potentially negative side-effects of treatment before it is started,” says Guntupalli. “Patients should also be aware of options they have to treat any dysfunctions and improve their quality of life.”