The proportion of people living with and surviving cancer is growing. This has led to increased awareness of the importance of quality of life, including sexual function, in those affected by cancer. Sexual dysfunction is a potential long-term complication of many cancer treatments. This includes treatments that have a direct impact on the pelvic area and genitals, and also treatments that have a more generalised (systemic) impact on sexual function.This is an update of the original Cochrane review published in Issue 4, 2007, on interventions for treating sexual dysfunction following treatments for cancer for men and women. Since publication in 2007, there has been an increase in the number of trials for both men and women and this current review critiques only those for women. A review in press will present those for men.
To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions for treating sexual dysfunction in women following treatments for cancer. To assess adverse events associated with interventions.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2015, Issue 9), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, CINAHL, Dissertation Abstracts and the NHS Research Register. The searches were originally run in January 2007 and we updated these to September 2015.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that assessed the effectiveness of a treatment for sexual dysfunction. The trial participants were women who had developed sexual dysfunction as a consequence of a cancer treatment. We sought evaluations of interventions that were pharmaceutical, mechanical, psychotherapeutic, complementary or that involved physical exercise.
Two review authors independently extracted the data and assessed trial quality. We considered meta-analysis for trials with comparable key characteristics.
Since the original version of this review we have identified 11 new studies in women. The one study identified in the earlier version of this review was excluded in this update as it did not meet our narrower inclusion criteria to include only interventions for the treatment, not prevention, of sexual dysfunction.In total 1509 female participants were randomised across 11 trials. All trials explored interventions following treatment either for gynaecological or breast cancer. Eight trials evaluated a psychotherapeutic or psycho-educational intervention. Two trials evaluated a pharmaceutical intervention and one pelvic floor exercises. All involved heterosexual women. Eight studies were at a high risk of bias as they involved a sample of fewer than 50 participants per trial arm. The trials varied not only in intervention content but in outcome measurements, thereby restricting combined analysis. In the trials evaluating a psychotherapeutic intervention the effect on sexual dysfunction was mixed; in three trials benefit was found for some measures of sexual function and in five trials no benefit was found. Evidence from the other three trials, two on different pharmaceutical applications and one on exercise, differed and was limited by small sample sizes. Only the trial of a pH-balanced vaginal gel found significant improvements in sexual function. The trials of pharmaceutical interventions measured harm: neither reported any. Only one psychological intervention trial reported that no harm occurred because of the intervention; the other trials of psychological support did not measure harm.
Since the last version of this review, the new studies do not provide clear information on the impact of interventions for sexual dysfunction following treatments for cancer in women. The sexual dysfunction interventions in this review are not representative of the range that is available for women, or of the wider range of cancers in which treatments are known to increase the risk of sexual problems. Further evaluations are needed.