Article Abstract

Pelvic radiotherapy and sexual function in women

Authors: Pernille Tine Jensen, Ligita Paskeviciute Froeding

Abstract

Background: During the past decade there has been considerable progress in developing new radiation methods for cancer treatment. Pelvic radiotherapy constitutes the primary or (neo) adjuvant treatment of many pelvic cancers e.g., locally advanced cervical and rectal cancer. There is an increasing focus on late effects and an increasing awareness that patient reported outcomes (PROs) i.e., patient assessment of physical, social, psychological, and sexual functioning provides the most valid information on the effects of cancer treatment. Following cure of cancer allow survivors focus on quality of life (QOL) issues; sexual functioning has proved to be one of the most important aspects of concern in long-term survivors.
Methods: An updated literature search in PubMed was performed on pelvic radiotherapy and female sexual functioning/dysfunction. Studies on gynaecological, urological and gastrointestinal cancers were included. The focus was on the period from 2010 to 2014, on studies using PROs, on potential randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where female sexual dysfunction (FSD) at least constituted a secondary outcome, and on studies reporting from modern radiotherapy modalities.
Results: The literature search revealed a few RCTs with FSD evaluated as a PRO and being a secondary outcome measure in endometrial and in rectal cancer patients. Very limited information could be extracted regarding FSD in bladder, vulva, and anal cancer patients. The literature before and after 2010 confirms that pelvic radiotherapy, independent on modality, increases the risk significantly for FSD both compared to data from age-matched healthy control women and compared to data on patients treated by surgery only. There was only very limited data available on modern radiotherapy modalities. These are awaited during the next five years. Several newer studies confirm that health care professionals are still reluctant to discuss treatment induced sexual dysfunction with patients.
Conclusions: Pelvic radiotherapy has a persistent deteriorating effect on the vaginal mucosa impacting negatively on the sexual functioning in female cancer patients. Hopefully, modern radiotherapy modalities will cause less vaginal morbidity but results are awaited to confirm this assumption. Health care professionals are encouraged to address potential sexual dysfunction both before and after radiotherapy and to focus more on quality than on quantity.