Breast Cancer and Sex: How Can Breast Cancer Affect Sexual Health – Verywell Health

Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, is a published oncology nurse writer who advocates for those surviving and thriving with cancer.  
Chioma Ndubisi, MD, is a board-certified OB/GYN who specializes in sexual and reproductive health in New York, New York.
Physical changes in your body due to breast cancer treatment paired with feelings of loss and fear can reduce libido (sex drive) and ultimately lead to depression.
It's important to have open communication with your healthcare provider if you're experiencing sexual problems after a breast cancer diagnosis.
This article will discuss how breast cancer affects sexual health and ways to prevent or treat sexual problems associated with breast cancer.
Although chemotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery, and radiation are needed to treat, cure, or prevent breast cancer, they can also cause sexual dysfunction. Due to hormone fluctuations, medication side effects, and poor body image, sexual health is greatly affected by breast cancer. Intercourse is not usually dangerous; however, sex can be painful for women, and men may experience erectile dysfunction.
The following are ways breast cancer treatment can cause sexual dysfunction in men and women:

Following your treatment regimen is essential to surviving and thriving with breast cancer. These tips may help prevent or alleviate sexual problems from breast cancer treatment in men and women:
Studies show that healthcare providers don’t always provide sex education to patients with newly diagnosed cancer. Be sure to discuss this topic with your oncology team before treatment starts so you know what to expect.

While breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (after skin cancers), male breast cancer is rare. However, both genders experience symptoms of sexual dysfunction with breast cancer.
Because male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of the total breast cancer cases yearly, information about breast cancer in men is significantly lacking. One study found education about sexuality was the most frequent unmet information need reported by male breast cancer survivors.
Common sexual problems men with breast cancer may experience include:
You will likely need to ask your healthcare provider how your treatment will affect your sexuality, as little information is shared with men on this topic.
Symptoms of sexual problems in women with breast cancer include:
Although there is a great deal of information about how breast cancer affects the sexual health of women, you will likely need to ask for education on this topic as well.

The first step in treating sexual problems with breast cancer is to speak to your healthcare provider. Whether male or female, sharing your new or worsening sexual side effects with your oncology team is vital. Additionally, being referred to a sex therapist or for sexual rehabilitation can help assess and diagnose the dysfunction and formulate a treatment plan that fits your individual needs.
It may also help to do the following:
For both men and women, the following may help improve sexual problems associated with breast cancer:
Check with your healthcare provider before implementing any new treatments for sexual dysfunction.
Whether you're male or female, you will likely experience sexual problems if you have breast cancer. The consequences of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery, and radiation can cause sexual dysfunction leading to depression. Speaking to your healthcare provider about how breast cancer will affect sexuality is important as there are ways to prevent or alleviate these side effects.
Changes in appearance from breast cancer surgery can greatly influence body image and self-esteem in both men and women. Weight gain or loss, hair loss, breast removal, and scars can make you feel self-conscious. It's important that you don't feel rushed into sex until you're ready. Enjoying other ways to feel close to your partner is equally as satisfying. Be sure to seek help from your healthcare provider if new or worsening sexual problems occur.
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Breast Cancer Now. Sex and breast cancer treatment.
American Cancer Society. Cancer, sex, and the female body.
Bootsma TI, Duijveman P, Pijpe A, Scheelings PC, Witkamp AJ, Bleiker EMA. Unmet information needs of men with breast cancer and health professionalsPsychooncology. 2020;29(5):851-860. doi:10.1002/pon.5356
Carter J, Lacchetti C, Andersen BL, et al. Interventions to address sexual problems in people with cancer: american society of clinical oncology clinical practice guideline adaptation of cancer care ontario guideline. JCO. 2018;36(5):492-511. doi:10.1200/JCO.2017.75.8995
By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.

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