New clinic helping cancer patients in need of support

News / Patient Care / Cancer Care
By Meaghan Quinn

Clinic helps cancer patients discuss sexual health concerns

Cancer treatment can help improve the quality and longevity of your life, but sometimes the treatment can have negative effects in other areas. One area that is often overlooked is the impact it can have on a patient’s sexual health. Now though, a new clinic run out of the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario at the KGH site is looking to change that. 

The Cancer Centre Sexual Health Clinic helps make it easier for cancer patients to discuss their sexual health. They also receive education, tools and counselling to help them on their care journey. 

“When patients come for their cancer care appointments with their physician, discussing their sexual health may not be a simple and easy conversation to have. People often feel embarrassed to raise the topic and the problem can go unaddressed,” says Janet Giroux, Nurse Practitioner, and one of the co-leads of the clinic. “At this new clinic, we give cancer patients the time and space to explore these issues and possible insecurities they’re experiencing.”

When a patient undergoes cancer treatment, some of the changes they can experience include low sexual desire and other physical changes, body image concerns, and relationship changes. 

The aim of the clinic is to look at these changes and develop a plan with the patient to respond to them. It is a confidential, non-judgemental and queer- and trans-friendly service and it's also available to patients who have already completed treatment but still need someone to talk to. 

“At the clinic we have seen and helped patients who are 15 years post-diagnosis but still struggling with sexual health and intimacy concerns,” says Giroux. 

The clinic first began as a pilot in January 2016 and is modeled after clinics in other regions. The education required for the nurses involved in running the clinic occurred over several years. Jessica Holmes and Janet Giroux completed de Souza Institute courses focussed on Sexual Health and Cancer. In addition, Debora Stark works in the clinic as a Social Worker and also a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist. As a team, they assess and manage patients based on their need.  Along with helping patients, the clinic also works to help staff in their interactions with patients around the topic of sexual health.    

“We have a lot of research showing that sexual health is an important quality of life issue for patients, so we offer in-service training to staff to help them to become comfortable with having the conversation with patients as well as increasing awareness of the clinic so that health care providers across the hospital can refer patients to us if they feel a longer conversation is needed,” says Giroux.

The clinic seems to be resonating with patients. When it first opened, its goal was to see 20 patients within the first year. It ended up surpassing that number with over 70 patients passing through its doors.  

“The feedback from patients has been very positive and reinforces that we’re on the right track. It’s rewarding when patients leave here saying that they feel as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders and that some of their fears and concerns are alleviated from having attended this clinic,” says Giroux.

The clinic runs twice a month out of the Cancer Centre at the KGH site.