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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018 Nov;172(1):159-166. doi: 10.1007/s10549-018-4894-8. Epub 2018 Jul 19.

Sexual health in long-term breast cancer survivors.

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Department of Hematology and Oncology, CISSS Montérégie Centre/Hôpital Charles-Lemoyne, Centre Affilié de l'Université de Sherbrooke, Greenfield Park, Canada.
Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, University Health Network, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Applied Statistician, Markham, Canada.
Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.



Sexual dysfunction is reported in women with breast cancer (BC). It is unclear whether symptoms persist over time as data comparing long-term survivors to controls are lacking. We compared sexual functioning in long-term breast cancer survivors (BCS) to controls and determined the impact of adjuvant therapy on sexual health.


A cohort of women with localized BC (1989-1996) was prospectively followed. BCS and controls (2005-2007) completed self-reported questionnaires. Sexual health was measured with the Sexual Activity Questionnaire (SAQ). Vasomotor, gynecological, and bladder symptoms were scored using the Menopausal Symptom Scale. Regression analysis was used to compare groups, with adjustment for age and secondly menopausal status.


BCS (n = 248, 87%) and controls (n = 159, 95%) completed the SAQ at a median time from diagnosis of 12.5 years. BCS were older (62 vs 59 years, p = 0.0004) and more likely to be menopausal (94 vs 86%, p = 0.0025). Sexual activity did not differ significantly between BCS and controls, but when adjusted for menopausal status, pre/peri-menopausal BCS were less likely to be sexually active than pre/peri-controls (odds ratio OR 0.12, p = 0.012). In those sexually active, no significant differences were noted on the SAQ Pleasure, Discomfort, and Habit scales. BCS reported worse gynecological symptoms and pre/peri-menopausal patients had more bladder complaints (standardized effect size 0.36 p = 0.002 and 1.11, p = 0.011). Adjuvant treatments were not significantly associated with sexual function, but BCS treated with chemotherapy reported worse gynecological symptoms.


Sexual health and uro-genital symptom counseling should be provided to BCS, particularly pre/peri-menopausal patients, even at long-term follow-up.


Breast cancer; Chemotherapy; Endocrine therapy; Sexual Activity Questionnaire; Sexual function; Survivorship

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