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Education Program Helps Women Post-Preventive Cancer Surgery

Update Date: Oct 14, 2014 12:24 PM EDT

At-risk women are often recommended to undergo prevention surgery for breast and ovarian cancer. Even though prevention surgeries can greatly reduce their risk of developing the tumor, many of them are unaware of the side effects that these procedure could have on their mental and sexual health. In a new study, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute tested an education program and found that it helped women deal with these side effects.

"For women who inherit genetic mutations that put them at increased risk for ovarian cancer, oophorectomy - surgical removal of the ovaries - 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.

She added, "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."

For this study, the researchers recruited 37 patients who underwent ovary-removal surgery. The patients were considered high-risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer because they carried the genetic mutations, BRCA1 or BRCA2. All of the patients participated in the education program, which lasted half a day. The program taught the patients different techniques on managing their side effects. There were also two telephone counseling sessions after the program.

The researchers measured the participants' mental and sexual health with questionnaires that were administered before the study and at the end of the study. The team found that the program helped improve the participants' sexual health. After two-months, the participants reported higher levels of sexual desire and satisfaction, and lower levels of pain related to intercourse and 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," Bober said reported in the press release. "We hope to study whether this approach can be effective on a larger scale, perhaps by engaging patients in a Web-based program."

The study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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