Phobic Anxiety Linked to Sexual Problems in Breast Cancer Survivors

Phobic Anxiety Linked to Sexual Problems in Breast Cancer Survivors

Sexual function can be difficult after breast cancer treatment. (Learn more.) Many women feel little desire for sex or have trouble becoming lubricated enough for comfortable intercourse. They might have more trouble reaching orgasm than they did before having cancer. And emotional factors, like depression and poor body image, can influence sexuality as well.

Now, research suggests that phobic anxiety contributes to such issues, too.

You’ve probably heard the term phobia. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines phobia as a “strong irrational fear.” People with phobias are afraid of an object or activity, even though they know it poses no serious threat. They may try to avoid those objects or activities.

In September 2018, the journal Psycho-Oncology published a study of sixty women. Thirty women (average age 57) had been treated for breast cancer and had finished their treatment at least a year beforehand. The other group (average age 53) had no history of breast cancer.

The women completed a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), which assesses sexual desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain during the previous four weeks.

Anxiety levels were also evaluated with an assessment tool. Women responded to questions about the types of anxiety they experienced, including phobic anxiety. (Other types included anxiety about evaluation, interpersonal anxiety, and anxiety in everyday situations.)

Roughly three-quarters of the survivors had had chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Sixty percent had undergone hormonal therapy, and about half had had breast-conserving surgery.

Overall, 89% of the breast cancer survivors were considered to have sexual dysfunction, compared to 46% of the women without a history of breast cancer.

The researchers found that phobic anxiety in particular was associated with poorer sexual function in survivors based on FSFI scores.

“Most of the survivors had undergone chemotherapy, which is more likely than many other medical treatments to increase sexual dysfunction, so it is possible that the consequences of breast cancer that affect survivors’ perceptions of their femininity may also affect their sexual functioning by inducing a phobic response to intimacy and sexual relations,” the authors wrote.

Cancer survivors who feel anxious about sex are encouraged to talk to their healthcare provider.

Learn more with these links:

Breast Cancer Survivors Face Sexual Concerns

Female Cancer Survivors and Sex Health Issues

Cancer and Sexuality: Questions For Your Provider

Breast Cancer Treatment Could Preserve Ovarian Function

Younger Breast Cancer Survivors Have Sexual Challenges, Too

Special Therapy Addresses Body Image in Breast Cancer Survivors

Sexuality of Older Cancer Survivors

Sex and Anxiety


Anxiety and Depression Association of America

“Specific Phobias”


“Phobic anxiety is linked to sexuality issues in women who are breast cancer survivors”

(November 5, 2018)


Abril‐Requena, Ana, et al.

“Sexual dysfunction and phobic anxiety in breast cancer survivors”

(Full-text. First published: September 17, 2018)

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