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Addressing patient sexuality issues in cancer and palliative care

27 May 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 10


The impact of cancer and subsequent treatments can have serious implications for patient sexuality, both physically and psychologically. Patients report inadequate communication and support from professionals in relation to sexual issues. The aim of this literature review was to ascertain the educational requirements of health professionals practising in oncology and palliative care, to enable effective assessment and support in this area of clinical practice. There appear to be numerous barriers preventing professionals from addressing patient sexuality—lack of knowledge and poor confidence levels being among the most common. Appropriate education is required to equip staff, and it appears that short training programmes can be effective. The use of sexuality assessment tools and information cards, and accessing information from cancer charity websites may improve clinical practice. Addressing sexuality concerns is the responsibility of each person in the multidisciplinary team. Patients require open discussion and professionals must skilfully address the topic of sexuality. Education in this area must be accessible, cost effective and sustainable.

Altered sexuality due to disease can have long-lasting effects on patient wellbeing, relationships and overall quality of life (Hautamäki-Lamminen et al, 2013; Krouwel et al, 2015). Sexuality is closely associated with a person's individuality and distinctiveness, it can be considered a highly private and intimate topic, and therefore complex for health professionals to address in patient care (Roberts, 2013; Kissane et al, 2017).

Cancer is now recognised as a long-term condition, with survivorship levels continuing to rise. In survivorship, patients may continue to experience both physical and psychological long-term serious side effects. These include sexual changes and relationship issues (Manicom, 2010; Keesing et al, 2015). If patients have appropriate support and ongoing assessment post-treatment, quality of life could be improved at a much earlier stage (Maher and McConnell, 2011).

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