New Study Finds That Internet-Based Counseling Improves Sex Lives of Women with Breast Cancer

A study of 169 breast cancer survivors in the Netherlands found that women randomized to get an online treatment program for sexual problems improved far more than a group that only received a booklet to read. Improvements were seen in women’s sexual desire, pleasure, and problems with vaginal dryness in the online treatment group.1

These findings are similar to our previous study (see Our Science),2 which included women treated either for breast or gynecological cancer. The studies both provide evidence that online treatment can be a cost-effective way to help women with cancer-related sexual problems.

However, our treatment program and the one used in the Netherlands were rather different. Women in our study all could use a website designed to be a self-help tool, including education about basic sexuality, how different types of cancer treatments damage women’s sex lives, self-help exercises to try, guidance on options for medical treatments, and videotaped interviews with women who had coped with sexual problems after cancer. In our randomized study, half of women were assigned to use the self-help website alone, and half also got 3 in-person sessions with a trained counselor during the treatment period. By 6-month follow-up, the two groups had improved equally. However, the counseled group had their big changes during the first 3 months when they had their appointments, and used the website very little during the second 3 months. In contrast, the self-help group used the website more during the second 3 months and kept on improving while the counseled group backslid somewhat.

In the study in the Netherlands, all women had an initial interview with a trained counselor. Then they had weekly sessions in which they emailed with a counselor about educational information and exercises that were posted online. The counselor chose 4 or 5 treatment topics for each patient and presented them in a specific order. The study also included several phone calls with the counselor to help women stay motivated. The degree of improvement was fairly similar in both studies. However, the group in the Netherlands did not have the benefit of the grant funding that allowed our group to develop a sophisticated, interactive website with personalized navigation.

Despite the different designs of these studies, they confirm that online treatment can be successful for many women without the expense of having many face-to-face visits with an expert mental health professional. Will2Love is currently working with the American Cancer Society to prepare another research study in which both men and women with any type of cancer will be able to use our self-help programs for free in exchange for completing questionnaires and allowing us to monitor their usage of the websites (with many protections of privacy). We hope to start the study in May or June of 2017. Will2Love is committed to testing our products and improving them to ensure that they are effective for the cancer community!

1Hummel SB et al. Efficacy of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy in improving sexual functioning of breast cancer survivors: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, March 3, 2017 [ePublication ahead of print).

2Schover LR et al. Efficacy trial of an internet-based intervention for cancer-related female sexual dysfunction. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network 2013;11:1389-1397.

This educational material is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace, or substitute for, professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read in this educational material.

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