Identifying the psychosexual implications of radical radiation treatment in prostate cancer
Baldwin, Alanna G.
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The purpose of this study was to determine whether there was any evidence of psychosexual morbidity among men who experienced radical radiation treatment for prostate cancer. With relatively little known or available retrospective data on the psychosexual implications of radical radiation treatment in men with prostate cancer, this study posited eight research questions which provided the basis for the research. Fifty men from Southern Ontario, between the ages of 52 to 78 years, were included in the study. They had been previously randomized to a clinical trial comparing radical radiation therapy by external beam radiation, or radical radiation using a combination of a temporary iridium implant plus external beam radiation, for localized or locally advanced prostate cancer. Assessment of sexual functioning, drive, attitudes, body image, and sexual satisfaction was drawn from a multidimensional approach, since psychosexuality was viewed as having an impact on biological, psychological, and sociological domains of functioning. Medical chart reviews, semi-structured interviews, demographical profiles of each participant, and the Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory (DSFI) were the methods used to collect data over a four-month period. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were incorporated in the design and evaluation of the study. Frequencies, contingency analysis, Pearson's coefficient of correlation, t-tests, and ANOVA comprised the quantitative analysis. Data obtained from audio-taped interviews were analyzed qualitatively, and used for offering further insight and for facilitating the quantitative aspect of the analysis. Overall, there was sufficient evidence to suggest psychosexual morbidity among men who were treated with radiation therapy for prostate cancer. As well,there were a number of significant findings available to answer all of the posited research questions. The most significant findings were noted in post-treatment erectile ability and sexual activity. A post-treatment change in erectile ability was reported by eighty percent of men. Sixty percent of men noted a decrease in their ability to achieve an erection by reporting some morning stiffness only, penile rigidity insufficient for penetration, decreased control of erection, and loss of spontaneous erection. Other contributing factors associated with change in erectile status were: pain or altering sensation of orgasm, blood in ejaculate, pain and decreased amount of ejaculate, and penile numbness or pain. Eighty-two percent of men experienced a post-treatment change in sexual function, primarily due to the impact of decreasing erectile status. Only seven men reported that they experienced a decrease in desire mentally, whereas the vast majority did not experience any change in desire. Changes in foreplay, stress with optimal sexual positioning, and reduced spontaneity of sex, were other factors reported with the changes in sexual activity. The findings in this study broaden our understanding of what middle- to later-aged men feel and experience as they venture onward following treatment. This was the first study that evaluated available prospective data on pre-treatment erectile status and sexual activity. As well, this study was the first (with participant compliance rates of 100 percent) to have included an interview format to capture the views of such a large number of men. This study concluded with recommendations and implications for future research and practice as we move in the direction of understanding what is necessary for preserving psychosexual well being and enhancing quality of life in men treated with radiation therapy for prostate cancer.