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Art therapy & sexual side effects of a transplant: the latest research & news

We’ve found two interesting studies from the latest research in stem cell transplantation, tackling how art and creativity might help during recovery, and the impact of a transplant on people’s sex lives.




Can creating art help with recovery after a stem cell transplant?

As well as being a calming pastime, making art and being creative can help people dealing with illness work through emotional issues and explore their spirituality.

But new research also shows that art therapy can be particularly useful for people during their transplant recovery. In this study, researchers in the USA worked with 20 patients who were having a transplant in the same hospital.

Each patient was given ceramic tiles, brushes and paint to create their own ‘tile of hope’ – they could paint for as long as they liked each day. Their tiles were then fired, glazed and displayed in the BMT waiting room.

Afterwards, the researchers interviewed the patients about their experiences making the art, to find out what they’d got out of it.

Many patients said that it helped to occupy their time: ‘I’m going to be stuck in here so I might as well do something with my time.’ Taking part in a meaningful activity like painting was a good distraction from their treatment and side effects.

Others said that being creative enabled them to be more expressive – through painting they could reflect on their emotions, thoughts, life experiences and their identity. For example, one woman painted irises on her tile, as for her they symbolised happiness.

Participants also said that the painting was a positive experience which they found fun and relaxing; they enjoyed ‘doing something different.’ It also gave them a connection to the other patients taking part in the study, during a time when they were feeling quite isolated.

The researchers conclude that making art can be beneficial for transplant patients, and suggest that future studies could measure the effects of creativity on a patient’s psychological and physical wellbeing. They suggest that a project like this could be something that other transplant centres could encourage, with support of an occupational therapist. Read the full study here.


A long-term study of sex after a stem cell transplant

Doctors know that sexual problems are common after a stem cell transplant. But research has only tracked people for a short period of time during their recovery.

So in this study, researchers wanted to know more about people who were having problems with sexual function up to three years after their treatment.

Doctors surveyed 314 people who’d been through a transplant, and followed them up for three years. They found that lack of desire, problems with body image and physical issues (such as problems with erections, pain during sex and changes to orgasm) were all significant for these patients.

Interestingly, many people already had sexual problems before their transplant; this is because sexual dysfunction is common in the general population, especially for people with long-term health problems.

But for many people, these sexual issues got worse after their transplant.

In general, women reported more sexual problems than men. Three years after their transplant, many men said that their problems had stayed the same or got better compared to how they felt in the first year, with the exception of worry about their body image. For women, however, problems with sexual desire, body appearance, vaginal dryness, painful sex and orgasm difficulties had all got worse on average three years later.

Worryingly, only half of the people in this study said that their health professionals had talked to them about their sexual functioning, other than mentioning fertility.

The researchers suggest that there needs to be more education for health professionals on these issues, and better treatments available.

They also discovered that higher levels of depression are associated with more sexual issues. They recommend that better support for depression could be a key to providing better treatment for sexual problems after transplant.

Find out more here.


Find out more about treatment for sexual problems after a transplant in our booklet, The Seven Steps: The Next Steps, or read our blog with a psychosexual therapist.