ORLANDO, FL—The nurse-led interdisciplinary Workgroup on Intimacy, Sexuality, and Cancer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) has greatly improved education and access to resources for both patients and providers in an outpatient oncology setting, according to a report on its program presented  at the ONS 40th Annual Congress.

“Sexuality, intimacy, and fertility preservation are essential components of oncology patient health, yet these topics are significantly under-addressed,” said Leslie Heron, RN, BSN, MN, APRN, FNP-BC, of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, Washington. Barriers include concerns about explicit vs offending content and that the topic is easier to avoid than address.

In a survey of patients, all of them said the topic is important but only 38% knew of resources.  Staff and providers also agreed with addressing the topic, but only 54% knew where to look for  resources or to whom patients should be referred. “Patients  and providers both were ‘waiting for the topic to be brought up’ by the other one,” reported Heron.

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The workgroup, which included nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, clinical psychologists, patient educators, and others, implemented multiple interventions to increase awareness of sexuality-related issues, Heron reported. These interventions were designed to address what both patients and providers had emphasized as a primary barrier: lack of resources.

Heron said the workgroup has “spearheaded production of education materials for both patients and providers on fertility preservation and sexuality topics; produced informational videos now available on SCCA’s patient education web site; conducted engaging classes on body image, communication, sexual function, and intimacy products; organized an expert panel presentation on fertility preservation; and added books on sexuality topics to the SCCA resource library.”

Response to the workgroup’s efforts to date has been immensely positive, with the new patient resource webpages receiving hundreds of views. In addition, the handouts continually need to be restocked, and SCCA has ordered additional copies of books provided in the library due to high checkout rates, Heron added. Clinical teams now often request that workgroup members attend their team meetings.

Additional goals include “actively assisting in policy development and implementation around American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Fertility Preservation Guidelines.” Two University of Washington Doctorate of Nursing Practice students will assist the workgroup in providing and studying the effects of sexuality education.

“As our work continues, we hope to increase education and outreach, advocate for discussions on fertility, and provide an achievable model for addressing intimacy, sexuality, and fertility that other cancer centers can follow,” Heron concluded.