Single-Day Education Program Mitigates Psychosexual Side Effects of Risk-Reducing Salpingo-Oophorectomy


Key Points

  • Women who undergo risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy often experience difficult sexual side effects..
  • Trial participants attended a half-day educational session comprised of targeted sexual health education, body awareness and relaxation training, and relaxation strategies, followed by two sessions of telephone counseling.
  • Patients reported significant improvement in sexual health, an increase in sexual desire and satisfaction, a decrease in pain, and reduced anxiety.

More women are undergoing salpingo-oophorectomy as a cancer prevention measure, but many are unaware of the potential sexual or psychological side effects of the procedure. A new study by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute demonstrated that a half-day educational program can help women successfully address and deal with these issues.

The program taught women how to manage some of the physical and emotional difficulties that can follow risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy and helped many participants resume satisfying sexual activity and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, the investigators found. The study, reported by Bober et al in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, underscores the need to inform women about the aftereffects of this type of surgery and, critically, let them know that such problems can be dealt with successfully.

“For women who inherit genetic mutations that put them at increased risk for ovarian cancer, oophorectomy … can sharply lower that risk. But the procedure can have potentially difficult side effects,” said the study’s first author, Sharon Bober, PhD, Founder and Director, Sexual Health Program at Dana-Farber. “Patients often experience problems such as vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse difficult or painful, a decrease in libido, a change in body image, and a loss of a sense of vitality or femininity. In this study, we sought to see whether an education and training program could improve sexual functioning and relieve distress in these patients.”

Study Details

The single-arm study involved 37 oophorectomy patients who carried mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which predisposed them to developing breast or ovarian cancer. All attended a half-day educational session designed by Dr. Bober that taught them how to manage side effects of the procedure, improve their self-image, and practice relaxation techniques. That was followed by two sessions of telephone counseling.

At the start of the program and 2 months after its conclusion, participants completed questionnaires about their sexual and emotional well-being. They reported significant improvement in sexual health, an increase in sexual desire and satisfaction, and a decrease in pain associated with intercourse. They also reported feeling less anxiety.

“We found that in addition to acquiring new skills and knowledge, participants found it helpful to be in a setting with others who have gone through a similar experience,” Dr. Bober remarked. “We hope to study whether this approach can be effective on a larger scale, perhaps by engaging patients in a Web-based program.”

Dr. Bober is the corresponding author for the Journal of Sexual Medicine article.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.