Changes to Sexual Well-being and Intimacy After Breast Cancer

Jane M. Ussher, PhD; Janette Perz, PhD; Emilee Gilbert, PhD


Cancer Nurs. 2012;35(6):456-465. 

In This Article



The participants were drawn from the membership of the peak national organization for Australians affected by breast cancer. Participants responded to an e-mail invitation to complete an online survey. A mixed-method approach was adopted where qualitative and quantitative data are integrated and presented. The research protocol was reviewed and approved by the university human ethics research committee.


Survey. The survey was available for online completion for a 14-day period in December 2010. The survey contained[27] quantitative and qualitative items based on insights from an extensive literature review, discussions with stakeholders, and previous research conducted by the project team. The survey examined the experience of sexual well-being and pathways around help seeking for people with breast cancer in Australia.

Analysis. Descriptive statistics with measures of central tendency were calculated for ordinal data derived from quantitative survey responses. For frequency data, percentages are calculated based on the number of participants who completed each item and rounded up for readability. For items with multiple options, percentages do not total 100 because participants could choose more than 1 response. Thematic analysis[28] was used to analyze the open-ended responses. This involved independent reading of responses to each question by 2 members of the research team, to ascertain the major themes emerging and to develop a coding frame, based on notions of consistency, commonality, and the function and effects of specific themes. The entire data set was then coded using NVivo, a software package that assists with the organization and analysis of textual data. Demographic information is provided for longer quotes, which are omitted to enhance readability from shorter quotes. This article will focus on accounts of changes to sexual well-being and relationships after breast cancer.


A total of 2210 participants attempted to answer the survey, with 1965 responding to all questions, representing an 88.9% completion rate. Although a minimum sample of 381 was required to reach a 95% confidence level, accepting a 5-point confidence interval, a larger sample increases the statistical power of the study; therefore, all of the data that were collected were analyzed. The average age for participants was 54.1 years; the sample was predominately female, self-identified as Anglo-Australian, and had further tertiary education and/or training. Most participants were partnered and heterosexual, with children. Table 1 presents the complete sociodemographic descriptive statistics for the sample.

The breast cancer and treatment status profile for this sample is presented in Table 2. On average, it had been 3.9 years since participants received their diagnosis of breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, for 74.6% of the sample, the type of cancer diagnosed was early-stage breast cancer. Currently, 45.6% of the sample had finished their treatment, with a similar proportion (45.5%) indicating that they were receiving treatment. Menstruation had ceased for 77.8% of the sample who described themselves as postmenopausal.