A WISH for Women with Cancer
Madison, Wisconsin - As few as 10 years ago, when a woman was diagnosed with cancer, the sole focus was survival. Today, with dramatic improvement in survival rates, patients can focus on quality of life after treatment, remission or recovery. New treatments mean women can return to caring for their families, to work, to recreation, to active, productive normal lives. And to sex.
"People underestimate the importance of sex to normalcy," says David Kushner, MD, director of the UW Carbone Cancer Center's Gynecologic Oncology program. Although women often think about post-treatment intimacy, they may not feel comfortable talking about it. "There is," says Dr. Kushner, "a conspiracy of silence" among physician, patient and partner.
The UW Carbone Cancer Center is helping women and their partners address the sensitive, and often misunderstood, frightening and embarrassing issues surrounding cancer and sexuality.
Called WISH, Women's Integrative Sexual Health, the program, unique to the Carbone Cancer Center, provides resources, emotional support and most important, reassurance that no woman is alone. Women of any age, with any cancer diagnosis, can attend a free 90-minute educational session to learn about female health and cancer.
"Sixty-four percent of women's cancers involve a sexual organ. Pushing sexuality aside does not make sense. But without exception, women are worried about everyone else first," he explained. "Women tend not to think about sexuality." However, between three months to two years after treatment, it rises to the top of the priority list and women begin to realize they want understanding, need information and deserve help.
According to Dr. Kushner, women sometimes approach the subject themselves; sometimes they wait to be asked. Always they are relieved. The majority of questions are based on fear: of pain, of causing pain for their partner, of triggering a cancer recurrence, of infertility, of failing to fully participate in one of life's most fundamental experiences.
Research on cancer and sexual symptomsis extensive, especially related to men's issues. Research on treatments for women that can be translated to clinical programs has been lacking.
Earlier this year, UW Hospital and Clinics hosted the charter meeting of an international network of scientists and practitioners that will advance the science of cancer and sexual health in women. Dr. Kushner, vice chair of the group, and his team are pioneering research and developing clinical programs to address critical physical, psychological, relationship concerns during and after cancer treatment.
WISH, developed over years of encouraging patients to talk about their concerns, is making the desire to feel like a woman again a wish come true.
Date Published: 10/15/2012