November 1, 2005

Radiation for cervical cancer impacts sex life

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women with cervical cancer
that's treated with radiation have worse sexual functioning
years after treatment than women who undergo surgery for the
disease, a new study shows.

In fact, women whose cervical cancer was treated surgically
-- by removal of the uterus and any surrounding cancerous lymph
nodes -- had sexual functioning identical to that of healthy
women, Dr. Michael Frumovitz of the University of Texas M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and colleagues found.

Given that hysterectomy is the most common surgery
performed in the United States, Frumovitz told Reuters Health,
the finding that the operation does not impair sexual
functioning is an important take-home message of the study.

Both surgical and radiation treatment for cervical cancer
carry a range of side effects, Frumovitz and his team note in
the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Radiotherapy can cause
changes in the structure of the vagina, as well as the tissue
lining the vagina, while complications of surgery include blood
loss and blood clots.

The researchers set out to compare the quality of life in
patients with early-stage disease that could have been treated
with either approach. Their analysis included 37 women treated
surgically, 37 women treated with radiation, and a comparison
group of 40 healthy women. Patients were followed up at least
five years after treatment.

The women treated with radiation therapy had significantly
poorer scores on questionnaires measuring quality of life,
sexual function and levels of distress. When the researchers
adjusted for other factors that could have affected the
results, only sexual functioning remained significantly

However, there were no differences between the women
treated surgically and the healthy women on any of the quality
of life and sexual functioning measures.

"We found, at least in our population, that a radical
hysterectomy does not change sexual function when compared to
women who have never had a hysterectomy," Frumovitz told
Reuters Health.

For women who have cervical cancer that could be treated
equally well with radiation or surgery, the study provides
evidence that surgery would be preferable, he added.

"If your physician thinks that you could go either way with
radiation or surgery, we would say that our findings suggest
that you'd be better off with surgery in the long run if its
sort of an even, 50-50 type of scenario."

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, October 20, 2005.