A recent study in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer revealed that women with cervical cancer have a broad range of concerns regarding cervical cancer, its treatment and additional psychosocial issues, including but not limited to sexuality, and that their male partners had equal levels of concerns in the first year following treatment, contrary to beliefs that the types or intensities of concerns between the two may differ.
Researchers assessed 26 couples in which the woman had cervical cancer at stages 1-4, up to two years post-treatment. The couples were asked questions about the impact of the disease and treatment as well as general psychosocial impact. Their predominant concerns included prognosis, communication with the treatment team, and as expected, sexuality. Women in the second year following treatment had prominent prognosis and sexuality concerns, in contrast to their partners who revealed prominent prognosis concerns, but not sexuality.
Further, affected women and their partners experience illness and treatment-related disruptions in their relationships, intimacy and instrumental life domains, with the greatest disruption in the “domain of intimacy, defined jointly by spousal relationship and sex life.” Women reported greater illness-induced disruptions to relationships and more fatigue than their partners - an often overlooked symptom, say researchers.
While treatment for cervical cancer has historically focused on sexual and psychosexual treatment, this study revealed that supportive and educational interventions for women with cervical cancer should also address communication with the treatment team, prognosis, treatment issues and transmission concerns in addition to altered sexual functioning.
As a result of the study, oncology clinicians are reminded to include both the affected woman and her partner, if both wish, in treatment-related discussions and psychosocial support. According to researchers, “attention to the individual concerns of patients and partners may thus help to enhance marital satisfaction among couples during the difficult process of adaptation required of those living with cervical cancer and its treatment.”