Sex and Intimacy

Lifestyle Considerations With Breast Cancer

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Many women diagnosed with breast cancer ask, “Will my lifestyle and relationships change if I have an operation or other treatments?”

Our Answer

While reminders of your treatment may linger (such as surgical scars), be assured that your overall quality of life after breast cancer treatment can return to normal. However, age and treatment type can affect your individual outcome.

Some studies suggest that younger women, about 1 in 4 breast cancer survivors, may have greater difficulty adjusting to the stresses of breast cancer and its treatment than older women. These difficulties can affect emotional and social functioning, and may even lead to feelings of isolation. For some young women, chemotherapy may cause early menopause or sexual concerns, which can be very distressing on their own. Counselling and support groups designed specifically for younger survivors can help them cope with these issues.

Regardless of age, women who have had chemotherapy may notice a slight decrease in certain areas of function. Your doctor can better explain what to expect after treatment.

Keeping Your Sexuality Healthy

Sexuality is often a major concern for women with breast cancer. While there are several factors that can increase your risk of sexual problems, there are also many ways to ease their impact.

  • Physical changes from operations or treatments make many women less comfortable with their bodies. Looking at and touching yourself or seeking the support of others (preferably before operation) can help you regain confidence.
  • Some breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can change a woman's hormone levels and may negatively affect sexual interest and/or response. Involving your partner as soon as possible after your operation and openly communicating feelings, needs and wants, can help create intimacy with or without sexual activity.
  • Diagnosis in your 20s and 30s can be especially difficult, as choosing a partner and starting a family are often very important during this period. Accepting your new body image and turning to friends for support can help renew your plans for the future.

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