One of the major concerns of breast cancer patients is in regards to their sexuality after beating breast cancer. There are several physical changes like those from surgery that can make some women feel less attractive and uncomfortable with their bodies. There are also changes in the body as in the case of hormone levels from breast cancer treatments (chemotherapy). For younger women in their 20s or 30s, this can have a big impact on finding a partner and having children.
The Effect of Surgery and Radiation on Sexuality
The different treatments for breast cancer like surgery and radiation can have a negative effect on a woman’s self-perception when it comes to her attractiveness. Most cultures are taught to look at breasts as an essential part of female beauty and femininity. Thus, if it has been removed, the woman usually worries that she has become a lot less attractive. She will also typically worry about being unable to enjoy the sexual stimulation of the affected breast/s. Even after the removal of a breast/s some women still enjoy stimulation in the area where the healed scar is found. There are also others that don’t like being touched in the area. A lot of women who have undergone a mastectomy feel self-conscious during certain sexual positions where the area is visible to the partner.
There are usually emotional effects from breast surgery or radiation but sometimes there is no effect on the sexual desire of the woman. Some women also do not have vaginal lubrication problems and still enjoy normal feelings in their genitals. However, some can suffer from sexual problems like difficulty in reaching an orgasm. According to a recent study, the majority of women with early-stage breast cancer can adjust emotionally and their sexual satisfaction can return to normal within one year from the surgery. They report that their quality of life is similar to their life before cancer.
There are also some women who suffer from chronic pain in the chest and shoulder areas after surgery. Thus, during intercourse, these areas should be supported by pillows and positions that put pressure on the chest and shoulders should be avoided. For those who have undergone breast-conserving surgery and radiation therapy, scarring may occur and the shape or size of the breast can also change. During radiation therapy, the skin typically becomes red and swollen and the breast becomes tender. This will fade away over time after radiation treatment is discontinued.
The Effect of Breast Reconstruction on Sexuality
Breast reconstruction is for restoring the natural shape of the breasts, but it doesn’t work to restore the normal sensation of the breasts. The nerve responsible for supplying feeling to the nipple is deep in the breast tissue which can get disconnected during surgery thus negatively affecting sensation. When the breast has been restructured, there will no longer be a pleasure from stimulating the nipples. In time, the skin on the restructured breast/s will regain some of the sensitivity but it will not be the same as before the mastectomy.
Effects on the Partner
Relationship problems play an important part because the diagnosis affects both the patient and her partner. Partners usually have problems in regards to how they can express their feelings both physically and emotionally after breast cancer treatment. However, the experience can result in growth and maturity of both parties especially when they work together to fight and beat breast cancer. Of course, there will also be partners that will perceive the patient to be less attractive after surgery especially after a mastectomy.
How to Keep Sex Life Going After Breast Cancer?
Your sex life shouldn’t die during and after breast cancer treatment. Here are tips to help keep your sex life going during and after breast cancer.
Learn About the Effects of Cancer Treatment on Your Sexuality
You need to talk to your doctor or any member of your health care team so that you will be aware of what to expect and how you can handle any issues. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about sexuality but this is an important part of keeping your sex life going during and after breast cancer treatment.
Keep an Open Mind in Regards to Enjoying Sexual Pleasure
There are some women and couples that have a narrow view of sexual activity. For those undergoing cancer treatment intercourse may not be possible during certain times. There are other ways to give and receive sexual pleasure which you can discover by communicating with your partner.
Give Your Self-Esteem a Boost*
Focus on your good qualities and work on improving your appearance. If your breast/s has been removed, you may undergo breast reconstruction surgery or wear a breast form. Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet to keep your body strong. Relaxation techniques can help you with anxiety and depression.