Knowledge, practice and communication barriers for oncology doctors in Chile when addressing the sexuality of their patients

6 Feb 2024
Daniela Paz Rojas Miranda, Constanza Micolich V, Karen Goset, Sofia P Salas

Introduction: Communication in a doctor–patient relationship constitutes a crucial aspect in medicine, and its multiple dimensions encompass a wide variety of ethical issues. Communication is particularly relevant in oncology, because it requires continually dealing with sensitive topics in one of the most highly vulnerable situations as a human: illness and proximity to death. Sexuality is one of these topics because it constitutes an area that is frequently affected by cancer and cancer treatment, which may include causing significant distress, the reinforcement of a negative self-image, relationship conflicts and a permanent memory of having cancer. The objective of this research is to describe the perception of knowledge and communications practices used by oncology doctors with respect to sexual health in the care of their patients, as well as the barriers found when it comes to confronting the topic.

Methods: An exploratory quantitative, descriptive and cross-sectional study was carried out, in which a self-administered questionnaire was given to oncology doctors who practise in Chile. This questionnaire had 41 closed questions with answers on a Likert scale and was previously validated by being reviewed and applied to a pilot group of five professionals (one medical bioethics expert and four doctors in the field of oncology). The data were analysed with the SPSS statistical program v. 20, using descriptive statistics.

Results: The main results show that the surveyed doctors consider sexuality to be an important part of patients’ quality of life. However, this finding does not align with the practices given for including it as part of clinical care. The professionals refer as the main barriers those that are attributed to the structural functioning of the institution, giving little value to those barriers related to personal aspects or those associated with patient characteristics and/or behaviors.

Conclusion: The results of this study show that, despite oncology doctors seeing sexuality as an important aspect of the quality of life of their patients, they do not include the topic in clinical care. Given that one of the main barriers is obstacles relating to the institution, it is necessary to create political institutions that create the conditions for including this area as a relevant part of cancer patient care.

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