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Sexuality after haematopoietic stem cell transplantation

A study of the lasting effects on sexuality of HSCT treatment found patients struggled to discuss issues with healthcare staff

A study of the lasting effects on sexuality of HSCT treatment found patients struggled to discuss issues with healthcare staff


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Changes and challenges to the experience and expression of sexuality persist for many years following haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), according to this Canadian study.

Many patients experience significant unhappiness with the changes to the body wrought by the disease process and its treatments, as well as dissatisfaction with their sexual and intimate life.

To better appreciate the impact of undergoing HSCT procedures on the sexuality of patients, and the experience of discussing such concerns with healthcare providers, researchers in Calgary conducted a mixed method design study.

In the qualitative arm of this investigation, data was collected via semi-structured patient interviews. The quantitative data element consisted of demographic details and the completion of the questionnaire for functional assessment of chronic illness therapy BMT (FACT-BMT), a 47-item Likert scaling assessing quality of life across physical, social and emotional well-being domains, and questions specific to the therapeutic process.

Hard to communicate

The non-probability, purposive sample comprised eight men and three women, all of whom had undergone either autologous or allogeneic HSCT for various diagnoses including acute leukaemia, lymphoma, aplastic anaemia and myeloma. The average age of participants at the time of transplant was 43.

Only four of the participants expressed contentment with their sex life.

The themes that emerged from the qualitative interviews included reduced sexual desire and concern about the effect on their partner, physical changes to their sexual function and arousal, and negatively perceived changes to their appearance.

Most suggested difficulty communicating their issues with professional staff. Some indicated that the cues they gave the healthcare providers were often ignored and that the staff did not ask about their sexuality.


Compiled by Dion Smyth, lecturer-practitioner in cancer and palliative care at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Birmingham City University

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