The WISH program

The goal of the Women's Integrative Sexual Health (WISH) program it to provide individual clinical consultation, resources, education, emotional support and appropriate referrals related to sexual health concerns for women with cancer.

Approximately 64 percent of women's cancers involve a sexual organ. 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.

About half of all women diagnosed with cancer experience sexual problems after treatment. In treating gynecologic cancer patients, our staff understands the impact cancer can have on their quality-of-life and have sought information and developed skills to help them address these issues. The WISH program offers care to women diagnosed with any form of cancer in a setting that supports each individual’s sexual well-being.

About the WISH program

The first 60-minute consultation at the UW Carbone Cancer Center includes a thorough history and education about sexual problems after cancer.

The second 60-minute visit includes a complete physical exam and treatment planning discussion.

Some women may be referred to UW Health pelvic floor physical therapists. Pelvic floor muscles are one of the main causes of pain during intercourse. Common causes of pain in the pelvic floor muscles include spasm, trigger points, tightness and scar tissue. Treatment may involve internal or external manual therapy, home exercises, dilator therapy, biofeedback and use of imaging ultrasound.

Referral to a relationship therapist who specializes in sex therapy may also be recommended. Sex therapy includes identifying and examining feelings about the patient and their partner, improving communication, and learning new ways to approach old patterns.


Find answers

The goal of the Women's Integrative Sexual Health (WISH) program it to provide individual clinical consultation, resources, education, emotional support and appropriate referrals related to sexual health concerns for women with cancer.

Did you know?

  • Sexual dysfunction is more common in women than in men.

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, 40-100 percent of cancer survivors experience sexual problems after cancer treatment.

  • Many women want to talk about sexual issues after cancer treatment, but are worried about bringing up the topic.

The UW Carbone Cancer Center WISH program was inspired by and replicates many aspects of the University of Chicago Program in Integrative Sexual Medicine for Women and Girls with Cancer. WISH is the first collaborating program to join the PRISM Registry, a research tool to accelerate knowledge across communities about the prevention and management of sexual problems in women and girls affected by cancer.

Common questions

  • They feel embarrassed and worry about embarrassing the provider.

  • They believe if it was important, their provider would ask about it.

  • They don’t want to distract their provider from treating their cancer.

  • They think it is the provider’s job to ask.

  • They feel embarrassed about discussing sexual topics.

  • They don’t feel they have the training, the time, the knowledge, or the resources to help.

  • They make the assumption that because of a woman’s age or marital status, she is not interested in being sexually active.

  • They feel that if the patient has a problem, she will bring it up.

There are many reasons why sexual intercourse can hurt. Vaginal dryness, scarring from prior cancer therapy, and muscle tension are some of the common issues related to pain. After a comprehensive history and physical exam, WISH providers will counsel patients about the possible cause of pain and suggest ways to improve or minimize discomfort. Follow-up appointments are important ways to customize individual treatment plans.

It is quite common for a woman to lose interest in sex after cancer treatment, especially if she has had surgery, radiation or chemotherapy that affects the ovaries. The ovaries produce estrogen and testosterone, hormones that are responsible for sexual desire and response. Natural menopause also decreases the level of these hormones in a woman’s body, so even women without cancer often experience a decreased interest in sexual activity.

Women may experience a variety of problems after cancer treatment, and many of them are billable to insurance. Insurers will often cover the clinical visits, though usual co-pays will apply. The WISH staff will work with patients to determine if a special referral is needed to be seen. Pelvic floor physical therapy is offered by UW Health providers. Insurance that covers UW Health will also cover these appointments. Currently, sex therapy is not covered by most insurance providers, but there may be exceptions. Patients should contact their insurance provider to verify coverage.

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UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center

The experts at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

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