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Intimacy need not disappear after mastectomy, breast reconstruction

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What can you expect from having a breast reconstruction after cancer? Besides a careful recovery regimen, some abdominal discomfort and the prospect of several breast reconstruction procedures (one to place expander packs and another to replace them with breast implants), there's always the issue of intimacy.

Cancer survivors may worry that their sex life will change after reconstruction. While it may temporarily fall off, intimacy certainly doesn't have to disappear after cancer treatment and recovery.

Here are a few common questions (and answers) about sex, intimacy, dating and physical affection after reconstruction:

How long after a reconstruction should I wait before having sex?
Breast reconstruction recovery takes some time, which is why the American Cancer Society recommends putting off heavy lifting, strenuous exercise and, yes, sex for six to eight weeks.

Will I feel less sexy after getting the surgery?
Many women go through an emotional adjustment period following breast reconstruction. This is natural and usually revolves around coming to terms with losing and then regaining a breast. Consider talking to your partner about it, as well as to counselors or support groups.

Can sex drive change after cancer?
It can. Chemotherapy, hormone treatments, radiation, emotional trauma, antidepressant use or chemo-induced menopause can all affect the urge to be intimate. Also, women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and who receive preventative oophorectomies can be even likelier to experience a shift in their drive.

Are these changes permanent?
Not necessarily. Experts at BreastCancer.org note that fluctuating sex drive often returns to normal after recovery. They add that a simple conversation with your partner can also help both of you regain your intimate connection. And according to Dr. Kara Nakisbendi, "the greatest prognosis for sex lives after cancer treatment, or at least the potential for a good sex life, is having had one before."

Do partners care about scars?
If you're still doing the dating game, you might occasionally run across a person who doesn't adjust well to reconstructed breasts. However, these people are rare, according to Dr. Leslie Schover. She told BreastCancer.org that most dates (and nearly all partners) care more about having you around than they do about scars. She added that if you're feeling self-conscious about your appearance, it never hurts to discussing trying some sexy lingerie.

Sources:

Schover L et al. February 2008: Sex, Intimacy, and Breast Cancer. BreastCancer.org. October 26, 2009. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/intimacy/ask_expert/2008_02/ Accessed March 13, 2012.

After breast reconstruction surgery. American Cancer Society. September 1, 2009.
http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/MoreInformation/BreastReconstructionAfterMastectomy/breast-reconstruction-after-mastectomy-after-surgery Accessed March 13, 2012.

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