This summer, an international group of clinicians and researchers met in Washington, D.C., for a first-of-its-kind symposium devoted to cancer survivorship and sexual health.
Higher-than-anticipated attendance among physicians, mental health providers and other professionals attests to growing recognition of the sexual health needs of cancer survivors.
If I could summarize one theme from this conference, it was a focus on ways to make sexual health services more readily available to our patients.
As cancer survivors become a larger segment of the population, the need for comprehensive survivorship care will only grow.
Specialized care team
Some of the presentations at the meeting described how hospitals and cancer centers created specialized care teams for sexual health problems.
Typically, these teams are partnerships between medical and mental health providers with interests and training in sexuality.
For example, a group of researchers in Sweden found that prostate cancer patients had much better sexual outcomes after a sex therapist was added to their team of medical and surgical staff. Other presentations from researchers in North America, Africa, Australia, Europe and the Middle East echoed the need for a team effort.
Also in the spotlight were unique ways of offering help to cancer survivors outside of the clinic.
For example, researchers at the University of Michigan spoke about a day-long retreat to educate prostate cancer survivors and their partners about sexuality.
Their participants not only found the retreat a useful source of information, but it may have also helped to change their partners' attitudes and how they talked with their partners.
Other groups introduced self-help tools that give medically accurate information and practical suggestions for overcoming sexual problems. Internet-based applications in particular can help providers reach those who are not necessarily able to come to the clinic.
Finally, I heard some wonderful presentations from advocacy groups that are playing a larger role in offering information and support for sexuality.
Clearly, survivorship advocates are playing an important role to shed light on unmet sexual health needs.
Sexual health at MD Anderson
Some of the innovations and trends discussed at this meeting are shaping patient care and research at MD Anderson. For example, our new Women's Integrated Sexual Health program in the Gynecology Center brings together mental health and medical providers to help female cancer survivors with sexual problems.
On the research side, recent work by Leslie Schover, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Behavioral Science, has focused on the use of technology to give reliable information and practical help to men and women with sexual and reproductive health concerns after cancer.
For many men and women, sexuality is an important aspect of quality of life after cancer.
The field of cancer and sexual health is not new, but in many respects it has remained young. International gatherings such as this one are helping to put sexuality on the agenda for survivor health care.
Counseling Improves Sex for Prostate Cancer Survivors and Partners
Renewed Sexual Pleasure for Couples Post-Prostate Cancer Treatment (podcast)
Livestrong- Dating and Sexuality (video)
Tendrils: Sexual Renewal After Cancer Treatment