Sexual Function And Quality Of Life
Sexual function is a key component of quality of life for most people, no matter their gender. In fact, in some cases, sexual intimacy has been shown to help people deal with cancer by helping them face their feelings of distress going through treatment. However, the reality is that a person’s sex organs, sex drive, sexual function, and overall well-being can be affected by cancer. Individuals who face sexual problems following cancer treatment are more likely to have a poorer quality of life and other concerns, such as depression or lack of self-esteem. However, the impact of breast cancer on sexual function is a topic that sometimes go unaddressed for patients.
The Impact Of Breast Cancer On Sexual Function
For women, breast cancer diagnosis and the consequent treatment can most definitely affect how they feel about sex and intimate relationships. Changes in the body, pain and discomfort, fatigue, nausea, body image issues, and emotional exhaustion can decrease a woman’s desire for and affect their ability to have sex.
Sexual issues often develop in breast cancer patients because of the physical and psychological side effects of the disease and its treatments. Some treatments such as chemotherapy might have an effect on women’s sexuality by inducing early menopause and even have effects on the vagina that make penetration uncomfortable or even painful. Other treatments such as mastectomy, the surgical removal of one or both breasts, can damage nerve function, cause changes in a woman’s self-esteem, and even impairs their libido.
Some of the possible sexuality-related problems faced by breast cancer patients include:
- Decreased libido or sexual arousal
- Lubrication problems due to vaginal dryness
- Painful intercourse
- Numbness or hypersensitivity to the breast area following surgery
- Radiation burns and changes in the texture and color of the breast tissues
- Physical changes from surgery (e.g. shortened vaginal canal)
- Concerns about body image (e.g. hair loss, scarring, weight loss or weight gain)
- Emotional changes (e.g. anxiety, fear, stress)
- Relationship problems with their partner
How Can Patients Deal With This Problem?
The first step is to bring up the topic of sex with your doctor, your partner, or someone on cancer care team. It is particularly important to discuss with your cancer care team to get a better understanding of what to expect, and continue to communicate about what is changing or has changed in your sexual life as you go through procedures, treatments, and follow-up care. It is also very important to communicate with your partner about your fears and insecurities and seek emotional support.
Understand How Your Body Works
Discover the changes your body has undergone and take the time to get used to these changes. Exploring your body yourself can help you discover what kind of stimulus is still pleasant or where it is painful. Share what you learn about yourself with your partner. Work together to have sex that pleases you both.
Boost Your Self Esteem
Remind yourself about your good qualities and physical attributes. If you lose your hair, you may choose to wear a wig, hat, or scarf if it makes you feel more comfortable. You may choose to wear a breast form (prosthesis) if you’ve had a breast removed. You can also undergo breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy if you are a possible candidate. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, dieting and exercising can also help keep your body strong and your spirits up. Practice relaxation techniques, and get professional help if you think you are anxious, depressed, or struggling.
Breast Cancer Foundation Support Groups – You Don’t Have to Face Cancer Alone
No man (or woman) is an island. Facing cancer with the help of a support group enables you to explore your emotions, find answers to questions you may have, and learn from other cancer fighters’ experiences and strategies. Other cancer fighters will benefit from yours too. You can contact the Breast Cancer Foundation regarding joining their support groups.
This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.