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Letter from the Chair

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am thrilled to be writing this first Letter from the Chair as the newly minted Chair of the Scientific Network on Female Sexual Health and Cancer! It is especially gratifying to be writing this letter as a former Chair of the Newsletter Committee. I cannot even start, though, without first recognizing the incredible commitment and tireless efforts of the Immediate Past Chair, Dr. Sharon Bober, who steered the Network through the incredibly challenging time of the pandemic and successfully led us to the other side. I know I speak for all of us involved with the Network when I say that I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Bober for her stellar leadership over the past years. The Network is in a great place – an exciting place – and this is owed much to the leadership of our outgoing Chair. Thank you, Dr. Bober!

After our successful conference at Yale last November, we were excited to use your feedback to begin planning some excellent educational offerings for 2023. One thing we heard in our evaluation surveys was that it would be great for the Network to offer some more content around management of sexual problems for female cancer survivors. Taking this to heart, we developed our spring educational offering, featuring Dr. Jeanne Carter from Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and El Pinkerton from University of Chicago, which explored this important topic from innovative angles. We are also thinking ahead to fall, when we will showcase a webinar from Dr. Lori Brotto from the University of British Columbia, who will be sharing results from her pioneering research program on mindfulness interventions in women with cancer. Do you have ideas for educational topics you would like to see the Network cover? We want to hear from you!

Of course, even while this spring’s full blooms are just beginning to transition to summer sun, we are already thinking ahead to next year, because that will be when we hold our next Scientific Conference! Collaboration is one of our core values at the Network; we know that amazing things happen when we come together to meet, talk, share our research and clinical pursuits, and keep us moving toward our mission. With this in mind, I hope you will save the date of April 18-19, 2024, for the 9th Conference of the Scientific Network on Female Sexual Health and Cancer, which will be held at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. Many of you may remember when we had our last conference prior to the pandemic at Ohio State in 2019. It went so well that we could not resist going back to that location for spring, 2024! I hope you will join us in person as we have some incredible things planned, and I am excited to share our plans with you as they begin to emerge in the coming weeks and months!

As we move forward into the summer and fall, I invite all of you to consider joining the Network if you are not yet a member. If you are a member, I hope you will consider becoming more involved, whether through joining a committee or even running for a board position. More to come on this in the fall, so stay tuned! If you would like to find out more about how you can become involved, just reach out! We are committed to finding ways to grow the Network and cultivate our efforts, and we would love to hear from you.

With that in mind, I will turn it back to the Network’s Newsletter Committee, who – as always – has some great things in store for you to read in this issue.

Thank you for joining us in our efforts to accelerate rigorous science, promote evidence-based education and practice, and advocate for informed policy. We could not do it without all of you!

All the best,

Jennifer B. Reese, PhD


Webinar Highlights

Innovations in Sexual Rehabilitation for Female Cancer Survivors

On May 11th, the Network produced the first of two educational webinars for 2023, with 146 registrants for the event! Network founding member, Dr. Jeanne Carter of MSKCC’s Female Sexual Medicine and Women’s Health Program, presented an overview of biopsychosocial approaches to sexual rehabilitation; followed by El Pinkerton, a researcher with the University of Chicago, describing updates in the Bionic Breast Project.

Dr. Carter emphasized the importance of addressing physiologic changes, such as vaginal dryness and pain with sexual play first in sexual rehabilitation, while also highlighting that these interventions are not enough to address the disconnection from the body and from pleasure that can occur in the wake of a cancer experience. She shared methods for helping patients become more mindfully connected by developing realistic expectations, minimizing distractions to sexual response, and quieting the cognitive chatter. We also must help our patients expand their sexual repertoire and promote confidence that intimacy and physical connection can continue to be rewarding. El Pinkerton reviewed new information from the University of Chicago’s Bionic Breast Project regarding both defining what patients would want from a “bionic breast” and the acceptability of such a device.

Members of the Scientific Network will be able to view recordings of this and future webinar offerings. Look at that - yet another great reason to become a member of the Scientific Network!

Save the Date

Upcoming Webinar:

Mark your calendars for the upcoming live Fall Webinar on September 21st at 7pm EST with Dr. Lori Brotto of the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory and Women’s Health Research Institute in Vancouver, BC. She will be presenting new findings from a recent study on online group mindfulness versus online group sex therapy for survivors of breast cancer. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from her expertise and to get your questions on this topic answered by Dr. Brotto!

Spring Conference:

More details will be coming soon regarding the 9th Conference of the Scientific Network on Female Sexual Health and Cancer, which will be held at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH on April 18-19, 2024.

Get Involved!

If you are interested in becoming involved with the Scientific Network, please consider running for a position on our Board of Directors. We welcome fresh faces and fresh ideas to help drive the mission of this organization forward! Open positions for the 2024 term will be posted in the coming months, and elections will take place this fall. Stay tuned for details.

Title: Breast Sensorisexual Function: A NovelPatient-Reported Outcome Measure of Sexual Sensory Functions of the Breast

Abramsohn and colleagues (2023) recently reported on the development and psychometric evaluation of a novel patient-reported outcome measure to assess breast sensorisexual function (BSF) in women with and without breast cancer in the April publication of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Expert clinician and patient input were used to develop an initial conceptual model that was further informed by a literature review. The measure identified concepts related to breast sensory (touch, temperature, pressure) and physical (nipple erection, mobility) function. Candidate items measuring these concepts were then categorized and underwent cognitive testing prior to psychometric analysis. A total of 48 items representing 10 domains proceeded to psychometric evaluation in a racially and ethnically diverse sample of sexually active women with (n=350) and without (n=300) a history of breast cancer.

Factor analysis identified a single general factor comprising 6 of the 10 domains, which sufficiently measured BSF by averaging 24 item scores. Additionally, each of the 10 domains can be administered and scored separately as desired. Construct validity of the BSF measure was demonstrated with high Cronbach's alphas (0.77-0.93) for the total sample (n=650) in 8 domains. Test-retest reliability of the identified general factor was highest among respondents with breast cancer having undergone mastectomy and reconstruction, followed by those with breast cancer not having undergone mastectomy and reconstruction, and women without breast cancer. Importantly, analysis found that BSF accounted for 40-100% of the difference in sexual function between women with and without breast cancer.

The authors conclude that this psychometric analysis of the newly developed BSF patient-reported outcome measure supports its use as a valid tool for assessing breast sensorisexual function in these populations, and that this measure is an important step toward facilitating the study of interventions aimed to conserve or improve breast sensory and sexual function for those at risk for breast functional loss.

Member Spotlight

Traci Owen, RN, BSN

  1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

    My name is Traci A. Owen, and I grew-up to be a Sex Nurse. I began my healthcare career at the age of 17 as a Nurse Assistant…40 years ago. I graduated with my BSN at the age of 22 and have been pushing my limits ever since crossing that stage. I cut my nursing teeth inside a level one trauma center working nights and weekends. From there I began to climb the leadership ladder. Fourteen years ago, I found my limits in an administrative role and wanted to get back to taking care of people. I was called into oncology and was hired as a Care Manager, working in rad/onc and med/onc clinics. I managed a team of patients for symptom management and care coordination.

    I became connected to my patients and came to know intimate details of their lives, their struggles, and fears. I heard of financial challenges, relationship struggle, mortality, infidelity, lost intimacy, regrets, and painful sex. As I looked for solutions to these worries, I found holes in the oncology system’s ability to attend to cancer’s impact on relationships, intimacy, sexual health, and sexuality. Challenge accepted. I returned to school at 52 and evolved into an AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselor and a Sex Educator. I was given the space to create an oncology sexual health program, which was joyous. I lack words to express all that I have been privileged to share with so many cancer couples. So much is taken. Issues of sexuality are in the top 3 QOL indicators most negatively impacted for our patients. Intimacy and sexuality are an integral part of our identity, our very humanity. I would love to build an army of Oncology Sexual Health Specialists to fill every oncology center. This is the MOST MEANINGFUL work I have done.

  1. Where do you work and what is the focus of your research and/or clinical practice?

    I am currently in private practice in Broken Arrow, OK, pending for 501c3 status. This will allow me to work with all women, and their partners, no matter their socio-economic status. It turns out that most oncology centers lack sexual health specialists, cancer is expensive, and many can’t afford private sexual health services. I’m literally cutting the trail with my teeth!

  1. How long have you been a member of the Network?

    I have been a member of the Network since 1/2021.

  1. What do you find meaningful and/or how have you benefited from Network membership?
    I enjoy the webinars that I get to attend. Being an independent [business owner], it is hard to get away for all the conferences. I do love the in-person, but practically… I enjoy like-minded thinking/learning, and talking about topics of sexuality that often seize regular folks up in conversation!

  1. What is an interesting fact about you, or what is your favorite hobby?

    An interesting fact about me is that I was nearly kidnapped by Pakistani fishermen on the beach of the Red Sea when I was 17.

New and Noteworthy

Member Publications:

Network members Joanne Rash, Lori Seaborne, Megan Peterson, David Kushner, and Janelle Sobecki published Patient Reported Improvement in Sexual Health Outcomes Following Care in a Sexual Health Clinic for Women with Cancer in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.

Network Board member Marloe Esch co-authored Treatment-Induced Ovarian Insufficiency and Early Menopause in Breast Cancer Survivors in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Network Chair Jennifer Reese and Network Immediate Past Chair Sharon Bober, with colleagues, published Starting the Conversation: Randomized Pilot Trial of an Intervention to Promote Effective Clinical Communication about Sexual Health for Gynecologic Cancer Survivors in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship: Research and Practice.

Network member Christine Chin and Network Board member Shari Damast published Brachytherapy Impacts on Sexual Function: An Integrative Review of the Literature Focusing on Cervical Cancer in the journal Brachytherapy.

Network member Christina Wilson and colleagues published Sexual Dysfunction Among Gynecologic Cancer Survivors in a Population-Based Cohort Study in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.

Network Chair Elect Carol Kuhle and colleagues published Adverse Childhood Experiences and Sexual Dysfunction in Midlife Women: Is There a Link? in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

If you are a Network member with a recent publication that pertains to women’s sexual health and cancer, please let us know. We want to feature the work of all our members!

Upcoming/Related Meetings

Upcoming meetings of interest, June to November 2023:

Joint ISSM/MESSM Webinar on Vaginismus, Virtual, June 27, 2023

ISSM Webinar on Pornography, Virtual, July 19, 2023

ICS 2023 Toronto, Canada September 27-30, 2023

ISSWSH Fall Course, Scottsdale, AZ October 19-21, 2023

ESMO Congress, Madrid, Spain October 20-24, 2023

XVI Congreso de la Sociedad LatinoAmerica de Medicina Sexual, Medellin, Columbia October 27-29, 2023

USPATH Scientific Symposium, Westminster, Colorado, November 1-7, 2023

24th Annual Fall Scientific Meeting of SMSNA, San Diego, CA, November 16-19, 2023

Welcome New Members

Kelly Scherger, PhD, Charlotte, NC (Levine Cancer Institute at Atrium Health)

Lauren Carney, PhD, New York, NY (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)

Deidre Power, NP, Oakland, CA (East Bay Women’s Health/Brown & Toland)

Denise Nebgen, MD, PhD, Houston, TX (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center)

Raliat Bashua, MBBS, Lebanon, PA (Wellspaan Lebanon)

Mary Heery, AOCNS, CBCN, APRN, Norwalk, CT (Nuvance Health Medical Practice)

Did you know?

  • ISSM University, available for free to ISSM members (inclusive of ISSWSH or SMSNA members), has a library of webinars covering both basic and advanced concepts in sexual medicine.

  • ISSWSH members also have access to past educational webinars:

  • And of course, Scientific Network members can access past Network webinars and other resources by signing in to the Member Page of our website!

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