Breast Cancer Sexuality

Michael Krychman MD

Having breast cancer and its treatment can be devastating and very traumatic. Not only are you dealing with the after effects of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and long­term medications but these issues may also impact on sexual life.

Sex is a vital aspect of the human experience and it is important to remember that the experience of cancer need not mean that your sex life is over. Most women can enjoy a complete and satisfying intimate life with their partner after cancer. Re­establishing closeness and intimacy shared during sex may help alleviate some of the stress associated with battling the debilitating effects of cancer. Understanding the facts and being proactive will help you reclaim your intimacy.

Decreased sex drive is not uncommon and may stem from both psychological and physical problems. An underlying cause may be related to a changed physical appearance... scarring, loss of hair, and other issues related to physical appearance.

After the treatment subsides, many women may not be proactive and seek treatment for sexual problems because of the stress of survival and a change in self­esteem. But finding the strength to break the silence about the importance of sexual pleasure and bridging the communication gap is critical to regaining control of your sexual self.

Start with a heart­to­heart conversation with your partner, or health care professional. Disclosing your concerns, but also be receptive to new innovative ways to reconnect sexually as a couple. It’s not only about sex.

Here are some simple suggestions to re-ignite your sex life.

Plan sex when fatigue is at its minimum.
If pain is an issue consider modifying sexual positions or pre­mediate with pain medications.

Listen to your body and consider intimate contact like cuddling and erotic massage if you’re not up for other activity.

Many medications cause severe vaginal dryness which can lead to painful intercourse. Choose your lubricant wisely. Water lubes may need multiple applications and many women prefer silicone based lubes which are slick, slippery, and long lasting.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate. Silence and perceived mindreading of one partner to the next often can lead to misinterpretation of symptoms and feelings. Do not shut down. Talk it out.

Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Sexual health care professionals are trained to deal with these issues. Seek help and be vocal about your concerns. Sexual health leads to overall health and it’s important to be your own sexual health advocate.