By Saketh Guntupalli, MD
(May 2018) The impetus for Sex and Cancer was a study on sexual function that
originated with our own Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology here at
Completed in 2015, the groundbreaking study is called
“Sexual & Marital Dysfunction in Women with Gynecologic Cancer,”
which was published in the International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer
and presented at the 18th biennial meeting of the International
Gynecologic Cancer Society in Lisbon, Portugal in 2016.
purpose of the study was to put issues related to gynecologic cancer
patients and sexual functioning front and center and to unearth some
answers that could help other women—and their partners—rediscover and
sustain intimacy. It was groundbreaking because no study to date had
examined in great detail the effect that gynecologic cancer has on
marital and domestic partner relationships.
When we saw the study results, my co-author and I knew we needed to do two things.
we felt compelled to tell women who had experienced breast or
gynecologic cancers that they had a lot of company if they had big
disruptions in their intimate relationships after diagnosis and
Second, we needed to tell them how to establish a “new
normal” in sexual functioning—one that could be even better than before
cancer entered their life.
With that latter goal in mind, we
interviewed therapists who work with women, and in some cases couples,
who have struggled with sexual functioning or just wanted to kick their
love life into a higher gear. We also talked with many of my patients
and, whenever possible, their partners or spouses.
Maryann Karinch, and I knew each other well before starting work on this
book. I’m her physician here at UCHealth. We wanted to make that clear
so that you know this isn’t “just” a physician and an author teaming up
to write a book. This is the deeply personal mission of a team with
day-to-day experience—from the perspective of oncologist and patient—of
sexual dysfunction after cancer diagnosis and treatment.
divided the book into two parts, with the first being focused on
understanding why cancer and its treatments are bound to affect sexual
functioning. There’s no way around the challenges, but understanding the
various causes of them will go a long way to helping you use the menu
of solutions, which are the focus in the second part of the book.
entire discussion in the book on “issues and answers” centers on the
study conducted here and carried out at four locations, including two
UCHealth facilities, Columbia University Medical Center in New
York and Loma Linda University Medical Center, which is about sixty
miles east of Los Angeles. We also refer to other complementary studies
to give readers a sense of what kinds of test instruments have been used
to ascertain the extent to which sexual function or dysfunction occurs
in populations affected by cancers of different kinds.
together, the studies helped us get a better understanding of the
nature of the dysfunctions and how to address them. They also illuminate
how the medical community might avert problems for new patient
When you add to that the contributions of other CU
physicians, nurses, and technicians, as well as physical therapists, sex
therapists, and other relevant experts, we were able to offer a doable
and practical approach to overcoming sexual dysfunction after
gynecologic and breast cancers.
Saketh Guntupalli, MD, is an
associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Division of
Gynecologic Oncology and co-author of Sex and Cancer: Intimacy, Romance,
and Love after Diagnosis and Treatment.