Many women find sex and intimacy difficult after a breast cancer diagnosis [92-94]. A serious illness in either partner can disrupt a sexual and intimate relationship, but 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.
If you are struggling with a loss of desire or with feelings that you have lost your attractiveness, it is important to talk to 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. Also, there are providers who specialize in the treatment of sexual problems for women who have been diagnosed with cancer. 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. Support groups may also help you address problems with physical intimacy.
Open communication between you and your partner is an important step towards reclaiming 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, hopes and comforting each other can help you and your partner have a satisfying sexual relationship.
Exercise has been shown to help improve sexuality and body image concerns among breast cancer survivors . And, some research findings suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (a special type of mental health counseling that may also combine techniques such as relaxation exercises) may improve sexual functioning for breast cancer survivors . At this time, few people are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and it is not widely available.
Dealing with symptoms of early menopause
Chemotherapy and other breast cancer treatments can result in early menopause, causing changes in the body that lessen sexual pleasure. These changes include vaginal dryness and a decrease in sexual interest or desire [92,94-95].
Although some women use menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) for a short period of time to relieve menopausal symptoms, the use of oral MHT increases the risk of both developing and dying from breast cancer [103-105]. MHT is also called postmenopausal hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy.
Because survivors have an increased risk of getting a second breast cancer, the best choice for most breast cancer survivors is to avoid the use of oral MHT . Vaginal estrogen therapies or non-hormonal options for the relief of menopausal symptoms are better choices for survivors. There are also new products being studied that may be helpful for breast cancer survivors. Talk to your health care provider about the best methods to treat your symptoms.
Learn about alternatives to menopausal hormone therapy for the relief of vaginal dryness and other menopausal symptoms.
Learn more about early menopause.
*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.