Sexual dysfunction is a common sequela in breast and gynecological cancer survivors. A recent study from Oregon State University found that a mindfulness-based intervention delivered via videoconference by a trained facilitator was a feasible treatment option for survivors.

The study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicinewas a small pilot project designed to test whether participants were able to meet the time commitment for the intervention’s focus group meetings and home practice exercises, and how they felt about meet via Zoom.

Sexual dysfunction is very common, but it’s often not seen as a potential thing that can happen to people in their bodies after their cancer and cancer treatment. And it usually doesn’t go away on its own, without intervention. There are a lot of people in my research who are just there to deal with it, feeling alone.”

Jessica Gorman, lead author, associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences

Cancer and cancer treatments can affect sexual health in various ways, she said. Breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy may experience a hit to their self-confidence and sexuality; hormonal changes can affect libido and cause vaginal dryness and pain during sex.

“Most healthcare providers don’t talk about it with patients. I think that’s true of sexual health in general – a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about it; there’s has a stigma, a question of ‘should I really talk to my doctor about this?’ Gorman said. “So this is a known issue, and there are efforts underway to try to improve sexual health communication between cancer care providers and patients, but it’s really not happening fast. or consistently.”

The pilot study included a total of 22 people in two cohorts: one before the COVID-19 pandemic and one during the first months of the pandemic. Participants completed an eight-week mindfulness-based intervention in a group setting, with a trained facilitator leading discussions about sexuality and factors influencing sexual interest; guided meditations; and practical ways to apply mindfulness exercises in everyday life, including sexuality.

The weekly group sessions took place via Zoom and lasted 1.5 to 2 hours each. Participants also received homework to practice mindfulness exercises and reflect on aspects of sexuality.

In addition to cancer survivors, the researchers recruited clinical and community responders who provide medical care and support or work in advocacy for cancer survivors. Stakeholders did not attend the Zoom group sessions, but were invited to read the intervention and share their assessment of the general approach.

In general, participants who completed the eight-week program said the time commitment was manageable and more than 80% attended at least seven of the eight sessions. About three-quarters of participants said they had learned and practiced mindfulness exercises; learn how sexual interest is affected by thoughts and behaviors; and reflect on how their cancer experience relates to their sexual concerns.

Almost three-quarters of participants also said they liked the group nature of the program, especially knowing that they were not alone in their struggle. However, there were a few concerns; some participants said discussions tended to be dominated by a few outspoken people; others felt uncomfortable sharing personal details or struggled to feel connected to the group in the remote video format.

The role of the moderator has proven to be crucial, Gorman said, and going forward it will be important for facilitators to be more active in moderating group discussions and making sure every participant feels welcome to attend. speak openly. From the pilot, the researchers also learned that it will be important to include a second host who can oversee the technical side of Zoom meetings.

Researchers now want to test the intervention with a larger group of people to see if the virtual program can affect patient outcomes, Gorman said.

“I don’t want to create something and make it just a research study; I want it out into the world,” she said. “I want people to be able to use it.”


Journal reference:

Gorman, JR. et al. (2022) Feasibility of mindfulness after cancer: a pilot study of a virtual mindfulness-based intervention for sexual health in cancer survivorship. Journal of Sexual Medicine.