Communication on Sexual Issues w/docs


Lack of communication between healthcare professionals and women with ovarian cancer about sexual issues

M L Stead1, J M Brown2, L Fallowfield3 and P Selby4

1National Cancer Research Network Co-ordinating Centre, Arthington House, Hospital Lane, Leeds LS16 6QB, UK

2Northern and Yorkshire Clinical Trials and Research Unit, 17 Springfield Mount, Leeds LS2 9NG, UK

3Sussex Psychosocial Oncology Group, Cancer Research UK, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QG, UK

4Cancer Research UK Cancer Medicine Research Unit, St James's University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK

Correspondence to: Dr M Stead, E-mail:


Gynaecological cancer has been shown to affect women's sexual functioning, yet evidence suggests that healthcare professionals rarely discuss sexual issues with women diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer. Few studies have investigated why there is a lack of communication between healthcare professionals and women about sexual issues. Our study investigated the attitudes and behaviours of the 27 doctors and 16 nurses treating women with ovarian cancer in our centre towards the discussion of sexual issues, and also investigated women's experiences of such communication. Our findings showed that although most healthcare professionals thought that the majority of women with ovarian cancer would experience a sexual problem, only a quarter of doctors and a fifth of nurses actually discussed sexual issues with the women. Reasons for not discussing sexual issues included ‘it is not my responsibility’, ‘embarrassment’, ‘lack of knowledge and experience’ and ‘lack of resources to provide support if needed’. While some of these reasons were also viewed as barriers by the women, the results demonstrate that there is a need from the women's perspective to improve communication about sexual issues, although the most appropriate approach to this remains to be investigated.

British Journal of Cancer (2003) 88, 666-671.

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