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Brain Imaging Behav. 2013 Dec;7(4):533-42. doi: 10.1007/s11682-013-9252-1.

Brain responses to erotic and other emotional stimuli in breast cancer survivors with and without distress about low sexual desire: a preliminary fMRI study.

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Department of Behavioral Science-Unit 1330, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 301439, Houston, TX, 77230-1439, USA,


Many breast cancer survivors report a loss of sexual desire and arousability, consonant with the new DSM-V category of female sexual interest/arousal disorder. The cause of decreased sexual desire and pleasure after treatment for cancer is unknown. One possibility is that cancer, or treatment for cancer, damages brain circuits that are involved in reward-seeking. To test the hypothesis that brain reward systems are involved in decreased sexual desire in breast cancer survivors, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare brain responses to erotica and other emotional stimuli in two groups of women previously treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy: those who were distressed about a perceived loss of sexual desire and those who may have had low desire, but were not distressed about it. Women distressed about their desire had reduced brain responses to erotica in the anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which are part of the brain reward system. This study is the first to demonstrate, in cancer survivors, that problems with sexual desire/arousability are associated with blunted brain responses to erotica in reward systems. Future research is necessary to determine whether brain responses differ as a result of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and menopausal status. This may contribute to the development of new, evidence-based interventions for one of the most prevalent and enduring side effects of cancer treatment.

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