ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA—Sexual health workshops increased nurse knowledge and confidence, allowing nurses to address sexual concerns of breast cancer survivors. This study was presented at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress.

Sexuality has important effects on quality of life, and breast cancer survivors experience significant sexual side effects and are physically and emotionally impacted by the disease and its treatment, explained Andrea Smith, RN, BSN, CBCN, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), New York, New York. Although nurses play a significant role in educating patients, many nurses are reluctant to initiate discussions on sexual health. Embarrassment, discomfort, limited knowledge, lack of time, fear of causing offense or invading privacy, low priority, and personal attitudes are barriers to nurses discussing sexual health with patients.

To overcome these barriers, the nurses and social workers at MSKCC, facilitated a sexual health workshop. Limiting the size of the discussion groups encouraged active discussion in a more intimate setting. The sessions covered reviewing and managing common sexual symptoms, available resources and educational materials, and strategies to enhance communication. Participants learned communication techniques and increased their confidence through role-playing sessions. The sessions also discussed recommended language to ease discomfort and to design a referral algorithm for more intensive interventions.


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Sixteen nurses attended the three workshops. Their postparticipation evaluations indicated overwhelming positive feedback and a feeling of empowerment. The nurses found role playing was a very effective method for practicing communication skills in a safe environment.

In a follow-up survey 3 months later, the nurses who had participated in the workshops reported feeling greater confidence with discussing sexual health before a patient initiates treatment. The workshop demonstrated that improved nurse knowledge and confidence can allow nurses to better address the sexual concerns of breast cancer survivors.