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Debra L. Barton, RN, PhD

Mary Lou Willard French Professor of Nursing
Associate Dean for Research
University of Michigan School of Nursing
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Current Research

  • Studies are focused on improving quality of life of female breast cancer survivors.
  • Interventions to improve sexual health after breast cancer treatment include topical creams, hypnosis, and medications. 
  • These studies will inform best practices in the clinical care of women suffering from side effects of anti-estrogen therapies.

Many women taking anti-estrogen therapies experience unwanted side effects on sexual function, libido and vaginal discomfort. For some women, these symptoms are troublesome enough to cause them to prematurely stop taking their therapy. Dr. Barton’s research is focused on addressing the issues of sexual health in breast cancer survivors. Her team is conducting a series of intervention trials to establish best practices for treating women suffering from these symptoms.

Full Research Summary

The overarching goal of Dr. Barton's BCRF research is to improve the sexual health of female cancer survivors. Sexual health is an important aspect of overall health in survivorship, and it is an understudied and under-funded area of research.

Work from Dr. Barton and others has confirmed that the severity of vaginal symptoms, fatigue, body image, and partner issues predicts overall sexual health. Her current research is addressing all four of those issues.

In the last year, Dr. Barton reported findings from two studies evaluating a vaginal gel to improve symptoms of vaginal dryness and pain and a hypnosis intervention for self/body-image. A follow-up study to evaluate the hypnosis intervention for self/body-image compared to a simple relaxation intervention has complete accrual and is ongoing.

This coming year Dr. Barton will finish her trial evaluating a low dose antidepressant for sexual energy/libido ( NCT03180294) and develop a partner intervention promoting communication and supportive behavior.  

The group continues to make important progress toward developing a set of options that can truly improve sexual health for women.

Listen to a conversation with Dr. Baron on BCRF Conversations podcast.


Debra Barton has been a funded investigator in oncology symptom management since 2002, having developed, implemented and completed 11 large multi-site intervention trials. She has developed phase II and III clinical trials in a variety of symptoms including fatigue, hot flashes, peripheral neuropathy, sleep problems, cognitive changes related to chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting, and sexual health, using behavioral interventions such as hypnosis and imagery as well as dietary supplements. Three previously completed trials have demonstrated promising positive effects; a topical gel for peripheral neuropathy, American ginseng for cancer related fatigue and vaginal dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) for vaginal symptoms. She also completed a pilot study showing positive effects on hot flashes from hypnosis alone that were equal to the improvement seen with an antidepressant known to help hot flashes. Dr. Barton is currently developing a comprehensive multi-faceted intervention for improving sexual health for women with a history of cancer that involves both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic components that address physiologic, psychosocial and cognitive variables that impact sexual health. Therefore, her approach to symptom management is to address symptoms from multiple perspectives, using more than one intervention, to reduce symptoms with minimal to no side effects.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Barton D

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Catherines Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)

Area(s) of Focus