Between surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, stress, anxiety, and exhaustion, sex can be the last thing you think about. You may even be wondering if you will ever feel like it again.
It’s a big problem because studies have shown that 60% to 70% of women with breast cancer have treatment-related sexual problems. The cause could be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other therapies. Unlike nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and other side effects of cancer treatment, sexual problems may not go away when treatment ends.
You may experience vaginal dryness due to lack of estrogen, body image issues after a lumpectomy or mastectomy, hot flashes (and the resulting insomnia) in the early menopause, or just feel too exhausted to even think about sex.
Unfortunately, many breast cancer survivors with sexual health problems suffer in silence and their problems remain untouched. This can have profound effects on the quality of life.
Sex is not just about intercourse. It’s also about intimacy and closeness, touching, holding, kissing, cuddling and massaging. These are all important components of a healthy relationship and something you probably need now more than ever. After all, intimacy may or may not lead to sex. It is important to be honest with your partner about where you are on the journey and that the two of you are ready to travel together on this journey.
It is also important to speak to your healthcare provider (HCP). Don’t wait for them to raise sexual health concerns. Difficult as it may be, you need to bring the subject up to make sure you learn more about the treatments available. There are many therapies available including sex therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy, dilators, moisturizers and lubricants, prescription therapies, and laser therapy.
If you find that your handicap is not adequately addressing your concerns, ask for a referral. If body image is a factor in your problem, a good therapist can help you feel more accepted by your body and talk about any problems related to desire and intimacy. Help is available and you don’t have to suffer in silence.
Fertility after breast cancer
Although most postmenopausal women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, between 6% and 10% of women will be diagnosed by ages 44 or younger, and many of them still want children. However, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can affect fertility and even send women into early menopause.
Fortunately, there are several ways to protect or maintain fertility. These include freezing your eggs before starting treatment, using medications that may help protect the ovaries (although the evidence is mixed), in vitro fertilization, and freezing the resulting embryos before starting cancer treatment .
Because your surgeon or oncologist is focused on treating your cancer, future fertility may not be discussed with you. It is important that you bring up the topic and voice your concerns. Your handicap should be able to refer you to a specialist who can explain your options and help you make this difficult decision.
This resource was created with the assistance of Merck, Daiichi Sankyo, and Sanofi Genzyme.