Fox Chase Researchers Plan Study for Addressing Sexual Concerns in Breast Cancer Patients

PHILADELPHIA (April 6, 2020)—A recently published protocol paper by researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center describes a new trial evaluating a couple-based intervention program designed to improve sexual relationships for breast cancer survivors.

“More than 50 percent of women treated for breast cancer will report sexual problems at some point in their cancer journey. Unlike some other treatment-related side effects that can improve over time, these issues tend not to resolve on their own, but rather can persist even for years into survivorship,” said Jennifer Barsky Reese, PhD, an associate professor in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program and the study’s chief investigator.

Reese said the goal of the study is to see whether a four-session couple-based intervention program done over the phone can help improve sexual function for breast cancer survivors.

The program outlined by the researchers, which is called Intimacy Enhancement, includes aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy, couples’ therapy, and sex therapy. It is designed to help couples learn skills for coping with breast cancer-related sexual concerns. The randomized, controlled trial will enroll 120 couples.

Although previous studies have proposed interventions to help breast cancer survivors with sexual problems, few have taken a couple-based approach that fully includes partners in the programs, Reese said. Additionally, previous studies used very small sample sizes, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the helpfulness of the intervention.

If the methods are effective, a next step could be to find ways to share the program with breast cancer survivors. This could include integrating them into existing counseling programs, said Reese.

Researchers are also looking at the parts of the program that make it most effective for survivors, such as teaching communication skills or providing confidence for survivors. Based on analyses of these aspects, researchers may be able to improve the program by focusing on those areas. Researchers will also be looking at whether the intervention is more effective for specific groups of cancer survivors.

“These kinds of findings could lead us to focus our next work in these particular populations of women. Ultimately, though, whichever direction we choose, we hope that this work will lead to an improvement in the clinical care and health outcomes for breast cancer survivors,” said Reese.

The study protocol, “Evaluating a Couple-Based Intervention Addressing Sexual Concerns for Breast Cancer Survivors: Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published in the journal Trials.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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