(Reuters Health) - Men with cancer or other chronic illnesses are less likely to seek treatment for erectile dysfunction, even though sexual health is an important aspect of quality of life, researchers say.
With a better understanding of the reasons why men don’t seek help, doctors could change the way they talk to their patients and help them seek treatment, the authors of a small study conclude in the International Journal of Impotence Research.
“Improving our approach could result in a large proportion of men maintaining a satisfactory sexual life, which is an important part of overall wellbeing,” said lead study author Dr. Dejan Bratus of University Medical Center in Maribor, Slovenia.
Erectile dysfunction is a common condition, but only 10 percent of men with erectile issues are typically treated, the study team notes.
“What surprises us the most is the attitude of health professionals toward the sexual problems of their patients as it seems that a large proportion of doctors are unwilling to discuss these problems with their patients,” Bratus told Reuters Health by email.
Over the course of a month, Bratus and a coauthor surveyed 500 men who were visiting their family doctor. The men filled out a questionnaire with just two questions: “Does sexual activity represent an important part of your life at this time of your life?” and “If you ever in your life suffered from erectile dysfunction (impotence), would you want to get it treated?”
In analyzing the men’s responses, the researchers split the patients into three groups based on the reason for their doctor visit and their overall health status. In the first group were 176 men with no underlying illnesses, who had visited their doctor for preventive reasons or short-term issues. They typically talked to their doctor about respiratory infections, backaches, urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal problems. Their average age was 50.
The second group, with “mild underlying disease,” included 244 men who visited their doctor due to existing chronic illnesses but didn’t have serious complications. They typically talked to their doctor about hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety and heart disease. Their average age was 60.
The third group, with “severe chronic or malignant illnesses,” included 66 men who typically had some form of cancer or had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Their average age was 62.
Overall, the research team found that more than 90 percent of the healthy men said sex was an important part of their wellbeing, while about 80 percent of men with mild underlying illness said this and for men with serious illness, it was closer to 70 percent.
Similarly, close to 90 percent of men who were healthy or mildly ill said they would seek treatment for erectile dysfunction, while just 70 percent of the seriously ill men said this.
“Sexual function is important to people but patient-provider communication about sex is often lacking,” said Kathryn Flynn of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Flynn said results similar to the Slovenian study have been found in the U.S., including the fact that many patients with serious illnesses such as cancer don’t discuss sexual problems with their healthcare providers.
“Even though there are psychological and medical treatments available to address erectile dysfunction (and other aspects of sexual dysfunction), patients often aren’t receiving them,” she told Reuters Health by email.
In Slovenia, the study authors are developing better ways for oncologists to talk to patients about sexuality and sexual dysfunction, Bratus said. He is also part of a new 26-country European Sexual Medicine Network created by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology funding organization.
“Our message to men who suffer from erectile dysfunction is that this is just a disease like any other,” he said. “There is no need to be ashamed of it, and we strongly advise them to talk about it with their doctors since there are many ways of getting help and improving sexual life.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2ZQSmw6 International Journal of Impotence Research, online April 11, 2019.