If you are struggling with issues affecting your sexuality, you are not alone. Sex and intimacy can be difficult for most women after a breast cancer diagnosis [128-130].
Although any serious illness in either partner can disrupt a sexual and intimate relationship, breast cancer can cause unique problems.
You may feel your body has betrayed you. And, after months of treatment, you may feel detached or disconnected from the pleasure your body once gave you.
Body image issues may also affect how you view sex, as well as your sexuality.
Some side effects of treatment can impact your sex life. For example, hormone therapy may cause a loss of desire as well as vaginal changes that can make intercourse painful.
Anxiety and depression can also impact your sexuality .
Problems that affect sexuality and intimacy can increase over time, so it’s important to address them early.
Talk with your health care provider, a mental health care provider (such as a social worker, psychologist or sex therapist) or a counselor. These providers can often offer treatment and support services.
For example, your health care provider can treat many physical symptoms affecting your sexuality or your sex life.
Some providers specialize in the treatment of sexual problems for cancer survivors.
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) can help you find specialists who are trained in sexual health concerns for people with cancer survivors.
Support groups may also help you address problems with physical intimacy.
Learn about ways to treat vaginal dryness and other menopausal symptoms.
Learn about ways to cope with stress.
Open communication between you and your partner is an important step towards getting back your sexuality.
Partners may be confused or unsure of the best way to show support and affection. They may retreat or wait for cues from you about when to resume an intimate or sexual relationship.
Discussing each person's fears and hopes and comforting each other can help you and your partner have a satisfying sexual relationship.
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For breast cancer survivors, exercise can help [14,130]:
Learn about exercise and breast cancer survival.
Learn about other benefits of exercise for breast cancer survivors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a special type of mental health counseling that may also combine techniques such as relaxation exercises.
Some research findings suggest cognitive behavioral therapy may improve sexual functioning for breast cancer survivors .
It may also help survivors reduce fatigue and stress [27-28].
At this time, few people are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and it is not widely available.
Learn more about fatigue.
Learn more about coping with stress.
Chemotherapy and other breast cancer treatments can lead to early menopause.
Menopause can cause changes in the body that lessen sexual pleasure [128,130-131]. These changes include vaginal dryness and a decrease in sexual interest or desire.
Breast cancer survivors have several options for the relief of these symptoms. Some products contain hormones and others do not.
Talk with your health care provider about which options are best for you.
Learn more about treating vaginal dryness and other menopausal symptoms.
Learn more about early menopause.
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Concerns about body image and sexuality can be especially hard for young breast cancer survivors .
Early menopause can cause changes that decrease sexual pleasure.
The long-term health effects of early menopause, such as an increased risk of osteoporosis, can also be a worry.
Talk with your health care provider about your concerns.
Young breast cancer survivors can feel isolated.
Because most women with breast cancer are older, it’s easy to feel alone even among other survivors. So, a support group tailored to younger women with any type of cancer may be more helpful than one for breast cancer survivors.
Younger women need to be able to share their thoughts and feelings with women who are at the same stage of life and may have similar concerns about fertility and having children.
Some websites, such as the Young Survival Coalition, offer chat rooms and e-mail discussion groups for young survivors.
Learn about unique issues for younger breast cancer survivors.
Learn about having children after breast cancer treatment.
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.
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