Women with lung cancer may frequently experience sexual dysfunction, according to findings presented at the IASLC 2022 World Conference on Lung Cancer.1

Researchers conducted the largest study to date of sexual health in women with lung cancer and found that 77% of patients had moderate to severe sexual dysfunction. 

Factors negatively affecting patients’ satisfaction with their sex lives included fatigue, shortness of breath, sadness, and issues with a partner.

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Previous research has linked sexual dysfunction to greater symptom distress and worse functional status in women with lung cancer.2 However, there is a lack of sexual health data in these patients since the approval of targeted therapies, according to Narjust Florez, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. 

To address this gap, Dr Florez and colleagues conducted the Sexual Health Assessment in Women with Lung Cancer (SHAWL) study. The study included 249 patients. Their mean age was 59.6 (range, 29-84) years, 88% were non-Hispanic White, 81% had non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma, and 45% were receiving targeted therapy.

Patients answered questions about sexual activity and desire or interest via a validated online questionnaire (PROMIS). Dr Florez noted that sexual activity encompasses penetrative sex, oral sex, self-stimulation, and other forms of intimacy, including cuddling and kissing.

A total of 127 patients said they had engaged in sexual activity in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. Of these patients, 59% said they experienced significant issues with vaginal dryness, and 26% experienced significant vaginal pain or discomfort during sexual activity.

In the overall cohort, 77% of patients reported moderate to severe sexual dysfunction within 30 days of being surveyed. 

The most common factors negatively affecting patients’ satisfaction with their sex lives were fatigue (40%), feeling unhappy (28%), issues with a partner (22%), and shortness of breath (15%). 

Dr Florez noted that the link between shortness of breath and sexual dysfunction is unique to patients with lung cancer.

The researchers also found that patients were more likely to report a decrease in sexual desire or interest after their lung cancer diagnosis than before diagnosis — 31% and 15%, respectively (P <.001). Similarly, a greater percentage of patients experienced vaginal pain/discomfort after diagnosis than before — 43% and 13%, respectively (P <.001). 

“Sexual dysfunction is prevalent in women with lung cancer,” Dr Florez said. “Sexual health should be integrated into thoracic oncology care, and further research is needed to develop interventions for each need.”

Disclosures: Dr Florez declared affiliations with AstraZeneca, DSI, Pfizer, Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis, Janssen, Neogenomics Laboratories, and MJH Sciences.  


1. Florez N, Acharya R, Wei Z, et al. Sexual health assessment in women with lung cancer (SHAWL) study. Presented at WCLC 2022. August 6-9, 2022. Abstract 1324.

2. Sarna L. Correlates of symptom distress in women with lung cancerCancer Pract. 1993;1(1):21-28.