Improve Sexual Function in Women with Breast Cancer with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness is extraordinary; it is as if they replace you with someone else. Positive thinking increased my willingness to return to life.” – International Society for Sexual Medicine
Because of great advances in treatment, many patients today are surviving cancer. But cancer survivors frequently suffer from anxiety, depression, mood disturbance, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disturbance, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, loss of personal control, impaired quality of life, and psychiatric symptoms which have been found to persist even ten years after remission. Also, cancer survivors can have to deal with a heightened fear of reoccurrence. So, safe and effective treatments for the symptoms in cancer and the physical and psychological effects of the treatments are needed.
Mindfulness training has been shown to help with general cancer recovery. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve the residual symptoms in cancer survivors. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program is a mindfulness training program that includes meditation practice, body scan, yoga, and discussion along with daily home practice. MBSR has been shown to be beneficial for cancer patients in general and also specifically for the symptoms of breast cancer survivors. So, it makes sense to further explore the effectiveness of MBSR training for the treatment of sexual function in breast cancer survivors.
In today’s Research News article “Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction on female sexual function and mental health in patients with breast cancer.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8799961/ ) Chang and colleagues recruited breast cancer survivors and provided them with either a 6-weeks of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or treatment as usual. They were measured before and after for sexual function, anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and quality of life.
They found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) produce significant increases in sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction and significant reductions in anxiety and perceived stress.
Because of the nature of the treatments for breast cancer, sexual confidence and performance may be challenged. It is very important to these women’s well-being that they return to normal engagement in sex. It is very encouraging that mindfulness training appears to improve sexual satisfaction in these women after treatment. This, in turn, markedly improves their mental health.
“Mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions are highly beneficial for reducing depression, fatigue, and stress in the short term. . . Breast cancer survivors are recommended to practice MBSR as part of their daily care routine.” – Yun-Chen Chang
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Chang, Y. C., Lin, G. M., Yeh, T. L., Chang, Y. M., Yang, C. H., Lo, C., Yeh, C. Y., & Hu, W. Y. (2022). Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction on female sexual function and mental health in patients with breast cancer. Supportive care in cancer : official journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer, 30(5), 4315–4325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-021-06540-y
There have been few studies using mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to improve sexual function in Asian women with breast cancer. This study aimed to evaluate the impact of mindfulness intervention on female sexual function, mental health, and quality of life in patients with breast cancer.
Fifty-one women with breast cancer were allocated into 6-week MBSR (n=26) sessions or usual care (n=25), without differences in group characteristics. The research tools included the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales-21 (DASS-21), and the EuroQol instrument (EQ-5D). The Greene Climacteric Scale (GCS) was used to verify the foregoing scale. The effects of MBSR were evaluated by the differences between the post- and pre-intervention scores in each scale. Statistical analyses consisted of the descriptive dataset and Mann-Whitney ranked-pairs test.
Although MBSR did not significantly improve sexual desire and depression in patients with breast cancer, MBSR could improve parts of female sexual function [i.e., Δarousal: 5.73 vs. -5.96, Δlubrication: 3.35 vs. -3.48, and Δsatisfaction: 8.48 vs. 1.76; all p <.005], with a range from small to medium effect sizes. A significantly benefits were found on mental health [Δanxiety: -10.92 vs.11.36 and Δstress: -10.96 vs.11.40; both p <.001], with large effect sizes, ranging from 0.75 to 0.87.
Our study revealed that MBSR can improve female sexual function and mental health except for sexual desire and depression in women with breast cancer. Medical staff can incorporate MBSR into clinical health education for patients with breast cancer to promote their overall quality of life.