Sexual health is related to quality of life and can be impacted by lung cancer and its treatments. Historically, most of the research regarding sexual dysfunction in patients with lung cancer occurred before targeted therapies and immune checkpoint inhibitors were approved. To measure current trends, Dr Narjust Florez (Duma) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute conducted the largest study to date evaluating sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer. The study was titled, “Sexual Health Assessment in Women with Lung Cancer (SHAWL)” and published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology.
The SHAWL study was an observational, cross-sectional, international survey that used the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS®) Sexual Function and Satisfaction Measures questionnaire to evaluate sexual health. Participants (N = 249) answered questions about sexual activity before their lung cancer diagnosis and over the 30 days prior to completing the survey. More than half had stage IV lung cancer and 45% were receiving targeted therapy.
In this study, researchers discovered significant differences in sexual desire/interest and vaginal pain/discomfort between pre- and post-lung cancer diagnosis. The majority (77%) of participants reported little to no interest in sexual activity and 67% stated they rarely or never wanted to have sexual activity. The most common factors negatively affecting participants’ sex life satisfaction were fatigue, feeling sad/unhappy, issues with their partners, and shortness of breath.
Further research is needed to develop tailored interventions that address the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer. When available, measures to address sexual health should be incorporated into protocols and care pathways for this patient population. This study may also be considered as a model for future research of sexual health in women with other tumor types, to determine whether those populations face similar challenges.
Sexual health should be integrated into thoracic oncology care, particularly for women with advanced lung cancer. Clinicians can support patients by discussing the potential impact of the disease and its treatments on sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer, at diagnosis and throughout treatment. Additional resources should be offered when available.