Breast cancer drug reported to cause sexual dysfunction

2012-10-02 13:35

A new study by Swedish researchers has reported that certain hormone-blocking drugs to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrences impact a woman’s sex life. Researchers affiliated with Örebo University Hospital (Örebo, Sweden) published their findings online on September 17 in the journal Menopause.

The goal of the study was to evaluate the effect of aromatase inhibitors on the sexual function of postmenopausal breast cancer patients. Aromatase is the enzyme which manufactures estrogen. Many breast and ovarian cancers require estrogen to grow; thus, aromatase inhibitors are taken to either block the production of estrogen or block the action of estrogen on receptors.

The study group comprised 82 women who were taking aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen. They were between 55 and 70 years of age and had been diagnosed with breast cancer two-to-six years earlier. Sexual function was assessed with a standardized questionnaire. The researchers compared those women’s responses to those from 102 women of the same age who had not been diagnosed with breast cancer. Most women in both the cancer and non-cancer groups reported that they were sexually active.


The researchers found that, overall, 42.4% of aromatase inhibitor-treated breast cancer patients were dissatisfied with their sex life in general; furthermore, 50.0% reported low sexual interest. The researchers found that sexual dysfunction was significantly more common in the women treated with aromatase inhibitors, compared to the tamoxifen-treated patients and controls. The majority of patients receiving aromatase inhibitors reported insufficient lubrication (73.9%); 56.5% of the women reported dyspareunia (painful intercourse). Both these percentages were significantly higher than the controls, irrespective of hormonal use. Tamoxifen-treated patients reported significantly more dyspareunia (31.3%); however, their responses were similar to the controls in all other concerns.

The researchers concluded: “Our findings suggest that sexual dysfunction in aromatase inhibitor-treated women is a greatly underestimated problem.”


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