Breast cancer is a life-changing diagnosis for many women. The physical and mental challenge of breast cancer treatment and uncertainty about the future takes its toll on a woman at home, at work, and even in the bedroom. Problems with sexual intimacy after breast cancer are common. A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer experience sexual problems within the first two years after their diagnosis.
Sex after Breast Cancer: The Challenges Women Face
In a study at Monash University involving 1,700 women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer, researchers found that seven out of ten women experienced sexual problems – even though 80% reported satisfying sex lives before being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Why is sex after breast cancer less satisfying for women? Many women with a breast cancer diagnosis are treated with estrogen-blocking drugs called aromatase inhibitors, which cause decreased sexual desire and vaginal dryness. Combine this with the fact that some women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their menopausal years when they’re already dealing with menopause-related issues such as hot flashes and mood changes. This can further magnify problems with sexual intimacy.
Sexual Intimacy after Breast Cancer: Self-Esteem Issues
Sex after breast cancer is more challenging because of the body image issues some women face. If a woman chooses a mastectomy, she may not yet be comfortable with her body. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, which makes a woman feel less desirable. Most of the women in this study expressed concerns about their body image in one form or another. Body image problems are particularly common in younger women diagnosed with the disease.
Improving Sexual Intimacy after Breast Cancer
Sometimes treating the vaginal dryness with lubricants and moisturizers helps women who have had breast cancer feel more comfortable with sex. Some doctors recommend vaginal rings that dispense small amounts of estrogen with little absorption into the bloodstream for dryness – although these may not be appropriate for all women after breast cancer.
For some women, aerobic exercise, strength training, and yoga help them better deal with stress while improving body image. This can make sex after breast cancer more pleasurable.
Good communication is also important for having satisfying sex after breast cancer. Discussing concerns with a sympathetic partner can help put to rest some of the concerns about body image.
Sex after Breast Cancer: The Bottom Line?
Most women have problems with sexual intimacy after breast cancer, but many of these issues resolve with time – especially if a woman communicates well with her partner. Some women report their sex lives are better than ever once they come to term with the changes in their body. Don’t hesitate to discuss these issues with a doctor or a counselor if needed.
Eurekalert.org. “70 percent of women likely to experience sexual problems after breast cancer”