Romantic Couple

Sexual Health and Intimacy

In survivorship, women experience both the physical and psychosocial complications of breast cancer treatment, which can have a significant negative impact on body image and sexual function. Abrupt hormone changes due to chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, surgery, or radiation may have caused sexual health problems. This includes partial or complete loss of one or both breasts, premature menopause due to cancer treatment, physical challenges of alopecia, and lymphedema. These changes alter a woman’s relationship with herself and can negatively impact a woman’s perception of her physical appearance and sexuality.

 

You are not alone!

 

Here are some statistics:

  • More than half of breast cancer survivors report sexual dysfunction, among those patients:

    • 55% reported vaginal dryness

    • 40% reported vaginal pain

    • 51% reported loss of libido

 

Sexual dysfunction during and after cancer treatment is extremely common.Therefore, the treatment of sexual dysfunction in cancer care is complex and requires coordination between care teams. Women may experience a lack of desire or difficulty with arousal, pain during intercourse, vaginal dryness or vulvar symptoms during or after treatment. Many women are embarrassed or ashamed to ask about sexual health issues after surviving cancer.

You should feel empowered to bring up these issues to your primary care providers. If a doctor or clinician does not seem comfortable or experienced with these concerns, there are professionals who can help. Ask for a referral to urologist or gynaecologist, other professionals who treat sexual difficulties. 

 

Problems that you can report to your team include:

  • Little or no interest in sex

  • Reduced vaginal lubrication (dry vagina)

  • Decrease genital sensation (feeling touch)

  • Reaching orgasm

  • Pain during sex

  • Or any other concerns

Here are some questions you might ask your providers:

  • How can sexual side effects be relieved or managed, if they do occur?

  • Can sexual side effects occur after treatment ends?

  • Is it safe for me to have sex during cancer treatment?  Would you recommend that I talk with a counsellor or sex therapist?

Intimacy is very closely connected to your feelings about your relationship as well as your feelings about yourself. Therefore, finding a counsellor who has experience working with people with cancer and talking through some of these issues can help both you and your partner. 

 

Good communication involves talking openly and honestly about your thoughts, feelings, and fears with someone who listens and supports you. By establishing open and ongoing communication with your spouse or partner, you both can better adapt to the change cancer has caused in your lives as well as in your relationship.

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