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J Consult Clin Psychol. 1989 Dec;57(6):683-91.

Controlled prospective longitudinal study of women with cancer: I. Sexual functioning outcomes.


The incidence and etiology of sexual difficulties for women with survivable cancer were studied. Women with early stage gynecologic cancer (n = 47) were assessed after their diagnosis but prior to treatment and then reassessed at 4, 8, and 12 months posttreatment. Sexual and medical outcomes were compared with data from members of two matched comparison groups who were also assessed longitudinally: women diagnosed and treated for benign gynecologic disease (n = 18) and gynecologically healthy women (n = 57). Global sexual behavior disruption did not occur, but the frequency of intercourse declined for women treated for disease, whether malignant or benign. In relation to the sexual response cycle, diminution of sexual excitement is pronounced for women with disease; however, this difficulty is more severe and distressing for women with cancer, possibly due to significant coital and postcoital pain, premature menopause, treatment side effects, or a combination. Changes in desire, orgasm, and resolution phases of the sexual response cycle may also occur, but they are of lesser magnitude or duration or both. Approximately 30% of the women treated for cancer were diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction. The nature, early timing, and maintenance of sexual functioning morbidity suggest the instrumental role that cancer and cancer treatments play in these deficits (particularly arousal problems) and suggest that preventive therapies are necessary.

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