When diagnosed with cancer, the last thing you might be thinking about is sex. But the issue will eventually arise, during or after your treatment. You will want to start going back to your 'normal' life, which for many women means resuming sexual intimacy with their partner.
An intimate connection with your partner can be a source of support during your treatment. But breast cancer treatment does have some sexual side effects, which can make resuming sex difficult. Because breast cancer treatment is focused on the upper body, there are fewer side effects than with other types of cancer, such as bladder, ovarian or vaginal cancer. The most likely as a result of breast cancer treatment is due to chemotherapy.
Many women experience a loss of libido during and after chemotherapy. The side effect of the treatment, such as fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and weight changes, can make women feel unattractive. But this side effect soon fades after the treatment ends, but it may take time to rebuild your self-confidence, especially after a mastectomy.
Chemotherapy can cause a sudden loss of estrogen production in your ovaries. This in turn can lead to symptoms of menopause, such as thinning of vagina, and vaginal dryness, both can cause pain during penetration. You should ask your doctor about the side effects of chemotherapy, because it can sometimes cause permanent damage to your ovary.
When it comes to breast cancer surgery, there isn't a clear link between surgery and decreased sexual function, although women who undergo a mastectomy may lose sensation in their breast area. What is often observed is that women who have lost an entire breast (or both breasts) can have a decreased libido. This can be a result of a poor self image.
Hormone therapy can also have a negative influence on sexual intimacy. When a woman has a hormone-sensitive cancer, and receives medications that can be effective in shrinking and killing cancer, she can experience menopausal signs and symptoms. But this usually wears off after treatment is finished. But what you should keep in mind is that hormone therapy usually lasts approximately 5 years.
Even though most of the women who have developed, and beaten breast cancer have already moved past the child bearing stage in their life, in some instances breast cancer strikes at a time when having a child is a priority. These women often have two major concerns regarding pregnancy:
- If I'm pregnant before, or during treatment, will the therapy have a negative influence on my pregnancy?
- Will the treatment I have had negatively influence my ability to conceive a healthy child?
In women who are pregnant, or who have just given birth, breast cancer often occurs between the ages of 32 and 38. If a women does become pregnant it will be difficult to diagnose her with breast cancer in the later stages of her pregnancy, or after birth, due to the fact that her breasts will be swollen and tender. This can make lumps difficult to detect, and delay the diagnosis. To detect breast cancer, pregnant and nursing women should administer self breast exams, and undergo clinical breast exams during their routine prenatal and postnatal examinations.
If breast cancer is detected during pregnancy, a number of factors should be taken into account, including: size and location of the tumor, how far along is the pregnancy, and has the cancer spread. Treatment during pregnancy aims to achieve the same goals as treatment on women who aren't pregnant, keep the cancer from spreading. If the breast cancer is so far along that the woman require therapy (radiation, chemotherapy, etc.), she is asked to consider ending the pregnancy because of possible damage to the fetus. Although this does make the treatment process easier, it is not proven that it improves the chances of survival.
But before radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or any other form of therapy is considered, women with breast cancer undergo surgery. The surgery itself will carry little risk for the fetus, the anesthesia on the other hand may pose as a risk. The doctors will work together to decide what the safest time is during the pregnancy to perform an operation.