Choosing high-risk screening vs. surgery and the effect of treatment modality on anxiety and breast-specific sensuality in BRCA mutation carriers

Kristin E. Rojas, Elizabeth Butler, Julie Gutierrez, Rebecca Kwait, Jessica Laprise, Jennifer Scalia Wilbur, Sarah Spinette, Christina A. Raker, Katina Robison, Robert Legare, Jennifer Gass, Ashley Stuckey


Background: We have previously shown that breast cancer surgery affects breast specific sensuality, and that women who undergo mastectomy may have worse sexual function outcomes than those who undergo lumpectomy. It is less clear if patients who undergo prophylactic mastectomy are equally as affected as those with a cancer diagnosis. We sought to compare sexual function outcomes and their relationship to depression and anxiety between BRCA mutation carriers (mBRCA) with and without cancer in order to guide surgical counseling and improve survivorship outcomes.
Methods: A confidential, cross-sectional survey was distributed electronically to mBRCA at least 18 years of age. The survey included investigator-generated questions, the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) surveys. Responses were analyzed in total and divided into two subgroups: those with and without breast cancer.
Results: Sixty-three mBRCA responded (37%) of 170 email addresses were identified, and 77% were postmenopausal. Although more than half of all mBRCA reported that the role of the breast in intimacy was important, most patients without cancer and all of those with cancer experienced an impressive decline in certain breast-specific sensuality parameters postoperatively. Among those without cancer, anxiety scores were not different between those choosing prophylactic mastectomy and high-risk screening (HRS). Sexual function as measured by the FSFI was negatively correlated with depression and anxiety in mBRCA. FSFI scores were not significantly different between those with and without cancer. However, the median FSFI of mBRCA with cancer, those undergoing HRS, and those who underwent prophylactic mastectomy indicated sexual dysfunction.
Conclusions: As the availability of genetic testing increases, more women are found to harbor BRCA mutations and must choose between HRS and prophylactic surgery. Women with BRCA mutations, both with and without breast cancer, are susceptible to derangements in sexual function during the course of both screening or treatment, and this appears to be negatively correlated to depression and anxiety.