‘Sexuality Issues in Cancer Care’ was one of the 11 Master Courses offered at the World Cancer Congress held in Melbourne, Australia in December 2014. It was led by Doreen Akkerman, Director of Strategic Health Communications International, and covered topics such as cancer related sexuality problems, treatments for sexual dysfunction related to cancer treatment, issues for gay and lesbian survivors etc.
The course received a lot of positive response for covering an often overlooked but important topic within cancer care. Dr Dalilah Kamaruddin was one of the course participants and a representative of the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM), a UICC member organisation. Dr Kamaruddin chose to follow this course to learn about how to approach cancer survivors regarding sexuality issues. She was challenged by the course as she did not previously feel comfortable to talk about such a sensitive issue with her patients and was motivated to learn how such conversations could be initiated appropriately. The key thing she learned was that good communication skills are crucial, and listening to patients and being open is essential.
Dalilah has proactively disseminated the knowledge she gained through the Master Course with local medical practitioners and cancer patient support groups when back to her country. At the NCSM’s annual World Cancer Day Conference and Expo held in Kuala Lumpur in February 2015, Dr Kamaruddin led a session on ‘Sexuality in Cancer’. With suggestions and support from Dr Akkerman, Dr Kamaruddin presented the importance of sexuality in cancer care and introduced the BETTER Model which was developed to help health care providers include sexuality assessment in the care of patients with cancer. Following her presentation, Dr Kamaruddin was invited by several local doctors and groups to discuss this issue with their patients. She presented informally to a NCSM women’s support group, Pink Unity, which primarily gathers breast cancer survivors. She has been invited to host a similar talk for the NCSM’s Prostate Support Group. When addressing the matter in her local settings, she found it “particularly difficult to make patients understand their own set of issues, recognise them as problems, and to discuss them frankly. Patients also need support in knowing how, where, and when to ask for help”. Her peers and colleagues acknowledged the importance of these issues and the need for greater awareness among medical fraternities, as well as cancer patients and survivors.
Dr Kamaruddin’s story is an example of the impact of GETI’s capacity-building activities which further the ability of healthcare professionals to better serve those affected by cancer. While a lot still needs to be done to tackle sexuality issues in cancer care, starting the conversation is certainly a step in the right direction. We hope that all Master Course participants will multiply the impact of education and training activities by disseminating the acquired knowledge locally.