September 4, 2012
In Canada, gynecological cancer affects one in 70 women and there are over 2,500 new cases annually. Despite its prevalence there is often a stigma surrounding this disease, leaving affected women feeling uncomfortable and too embarrassed to talk about it.
“This type of cancer can have devastating side-effects that have an enormous impact on women’s intimate relationships, as well as their sense of self,” says Dr. Catherine Classen, Women’s College scientist and psychologist.
To give these women a platform to discuss body image, sexuality and intimate relationships, Dr. Classen and her team of international clinicians and psychiatrists have designed an online support system that allows women to participate anonymously.
“We hope to raise awareness of the ways gynecological cancer may affect women’s lives,” says Dr. Classen, “and begin to identify a helpful support intervention for these women in their journey toward health and well-being.”
At Stanford University, Dr. Classen worked with support groups for women with breast cancer. Her success prompted a gynecological oncologist – who believed his patients were suffering with treatment side-effects that they weren’t comfortable discussing with him – to approach her for assistance.
Soon after, Dr. Classen was awarded funding from the Canadian Cancer Society for a small pilot project where women with gynecological cancer would participate in face-to-face focus groups.
“We had the hardest time recruiting for that study,” recalls Dr. Classen. “Women just didn’t seem comfortable talking about issues related to sexuality, but the ones who did ended up really benefiting.”
Dr. Classen had simultaneously begun to develop anonymous online forums to support new mothers and women with diabetes. She and her team began to suspect this model would be particularly beneficial for women struggling with the emotional and physical trauma of gynecological cancer treatments.
Over the next five years Dr. Classen and her team will be recruiting participants from Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and New York. Dr. Classen hopes to help reduce psycho-sexual stress, and improve sexual functioning and self-esteem.
To learn more about Dr. Classen’s study or find out how to participate click here.Jump to top page