Nurses and other health care providers should bring up sexual issues when treating patients for gynecologic cancers, says Christina Wilson, PhD, a postdoctoral student at the University of Utah.
Once the conversation is started, patients tend to open up, Wilson explained.
My recommendation would be just [asking] general questions. So starting off with, "How is your sexual health? Are you having issues with any pain or discomfort?" While I focus on gynecologic cancer, it's relevant to all cancer patients, [though] some of my work looks more at female cancer patients.
Broaching those subjects, just as we would with any patient who comes into our clinic with potential issues, having those conversations can be difficult if you haven't had specific training. But being able to just, at a general level, be able to say, "I want to know more about your health," and leaving it as a blanket, open-ended question, and seeing where the patient goes.
A lot of the patients in my studies said that if there had been an opening, they would have said something. So literally just having a general, blanket statement. "Can you tell me how your sexual health and cancer is going?" They may start opening up.
It's OK if you don't know what to say or how to respond. Most cancer centers have resources or if you're in the community [setting], you should be able to find other resources. You should be able to refer to supportive care clinics, psychologists, even gynecologists who have some training that could be of help with those issues.