Patient-clinician communication about sexual health in breast cancer: A mixed-methods analysis of clinic dialogue

Jennifer Barsky Reese, Kristen Sorice, Stephen J. Lepore, Mary B. Daly, James A. Tulsky, Mary Catherine Beach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Breast cancer patients’ sexual health needs are frequently unmet. We examined the prevalence and content of communication about sexual health between breast cancer patients and clinicians. Methods: Female breast cancer patients being seen in oncology clinic follow-up had a clinic visit audio recorded and self-reported sexual problems after the visit. Transcripts were coded for sexual health communication; data were analyzed descriptively or using Chi-square tests. Results: We recorded 67 patients (81% participation rate) interacting with one of 7 cancer clinicians (5 physicians; 2 advanced practice clinicians). Approximately 1/3 of women (n = 22) reported sexual problems; sexual health communication occurred with 10/22 of those women (45%). Across all 67 patients, 27 (40%) visits contained communication about sexual health. Seventy-percent of sexual health communication was clinician-initiated. When in-depth sexual health discussions occurred, the most common topics discussed were sexual inactivity (6), body image (5), vaginal dryness (4), and safety of sexual activity (2). Conclusion: Communication about sexual health was uncommon even for women reporting sexual problems and was largely initiated by clinicians. Practice implications: Because women with breast cancer often do not raise sexual concerns during clinic visits, breast cancer clinicians should raise the topic of sexual health for all patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-442
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Breast cancer
  • Dialogue analysis
  • Patient-provider communication
  • Sexual health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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