Breast cancer treatment can have sexual side effects in women, including sexual pain, loss of breast/nipple sensation, low arousal, decreased sexual interest, and insufficient vaginal lubrication. The emotional and mental impact of cancer treatment may take their toll on sex as well.
However, you can still enjoy satisfying sex as a breast cancer survivor, as the following slides explain.
Let your healthcare provider know if you’re struggling. You might feel that after surviving cancer, sex is a lower priority. But intimacy is just as important now as it was before your diagnosis. If you’re facing sexual issues, let your doctor know. They can suggest options for managing those symptoms.
Your healthcare provider can help in other ways, too:
- Referrals to a support group. It can be reassuring to talk to other women in your current situation or women who have gone through it before. You can meet with a group in person or online. Your doctor might recommend message boards and forums, too. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your situation in a group, you might try talking to another survivor one-on-one.
- Referrals for counseling or sex therapy. Cancer changes your life in emotional and psychological ways as well as physical ones. Coping with anxiety, depression, and life changes can be overwhelming. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional with expertise in helping women with cancer. Some women find that therapy helps when they’ve lost sexual desire, too.
If you have a partner, communicate with them. If you’ve been in a couple for a long time, your partner may have taken on a caregiving role during your cancer treatment. You might find that the relationship dynamics have changed. Or you might worry about how your partner feels about you.
Most likely, your partner wants to be as supportive as possible, but may not know how. Be open about what you need, emotionally and sexually. If a certain sexual activity is uncomfortable, tell your partner. If you’re feeling less feminine or worried about a cancer recurrence, let them know. They are on your team!
If you don’t have a partner, consider dating when you’re ready. Single women often have concerns about dating and sex after cancer. Know that you don’t have to rush into anything. Relax, socialize, and have fun. When you’re ready for sex, be open about your concerns.
If you’re concerned about your body image, try to re-frame your thinking. It takes time to adjust to bodily changes, especially after chemotherapy and surgery. If you’re concerned about hair loss, consider scarves and wigs. You might discover a new style that makes you feel good. Staying bald is another option.
If you’ve lost one or both breasts, you have options there as well. Some women have reconstructive surgery. Others use a breast form or prostheses. It’s also fine if you choose not to do either of these.
If you’re having vaginal dryness, don’t hesitate to use a lubricant. Your healthcare provider can recommend lubricants or moisturizers you can use to make penetration more comfortable.
If you’re experiencing pain or loss of sensation, try new sexual activities. Intimacy is far more than intercourse. If sex is painful or if you’re not feeling as aroused as you used to, make some changes. You might try new positions, role playing, sharing fantasies, using sex toys – there are many ways to explore being sexual. Kissing, hugging, and touching are other ways to share intimacy.
Learn more about sex and breast cancer in women:
What are aromatase inhibitors? Do they cause sexual problems for women?
How might cancer and its treatment affect body image?
How might cancer patients preserve their sexuality?
American Cancer Society
“Body Image and Sexuality After Breast Cancer”
(Last revised: October 3, 2019)
“How to Enjoy Sex Again After Breast Cancer Treatment”
(October 4, 2018)
“Cancer and Sex for Single Women”
(August 21, 2013)
“Dating After Cancer – Taking the Next Steps”
(October 30, 2019)