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Keywords:

  • body image;
  • conservative surgery;
  • early stage;
  • nursing;
  • sexuality;
  • vulvar cancer

Abstract

Aim

To describe women's experiences of sexuality and body image following treatment for early-stage vulvar cancer.

Background

There is limited information available on sexual function following treatment for early-stage vulvar cancer. A review of the literature has shown a lack of qualitative investigation into this topic. This study was undertaken to address this deficiency and to add to the existing body of knowledge describing the psychosexual outcomes for these women.

Design

Qualitative interview study.

Methods

A qualitative approach based on interpretive phenomenology was used to interview a purposive sample of 10 women (mean age 58 years) who had previously been treated for an early-stage vulvar cancer. Interviews were conducted from June–October 2009. Data were generated from verbatim transcription of the semi-structured in-depth interviews. Thematic analysis of these data revealed themes that were common to the women's experiences of sexuality and body image.

Findings

Four themes were identified that described the structure of the experience. Only two of these themes, sexuality and body image, will be discussed in this paper.

Conclusions

Findings from this study indicated that the majority of women experienced little to no long-term disruption to sexuality and body image following conservative treatment for early-stage vulvar cancer. Intimacy and relationship status were more closely linked to women's sexual satisfaction than physical arousal. Factors contributing to women experiencing negative emotions were radical vulvar excision, multiple vulvar procedures and/or the development of lymphoedema.