Sex help for breast cancer patients - advice

Breast Cancer: Affecting one million women a year

Let’s face it, breast cancer can hit your sex life for six! As if battling with the disease wasn’t enough, now you’ve lost your libido, your partner isn’t interested and if you do manage to get round to sex it’s thoroughly unpleasant. Of course this doesn’t apply to all breast cancer patients. But many couples suffer sex-related problems in silence out of embarrassment or an assumption that nothing can be done about it.

Take heart from the fact that it’s common for couples to experience problems with their sex lives when breast cancer rears it ugly head and in many cases there ARE solutions.

You can’t expect miracles and if you’ve had surgery and/or grueling radiation and chemo treatments time is likely to be the only solution to the problem of your unsatisfactory or non-existent sex life.

But if the problem persists several months after your treatment has finished there may be some underlying causes which need to be identified and tackled.

Some common problems

Many doctors fail to warn patients in advance that vaginal dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls are common side effects of chemotherapy. The hormone drug tamoxifen can also cause vaginal dryness and loss of libido.

To solve the problem of dryness, there are various water-based lubricants and estrogen-based creams you can use. There’s also an estrogen ring, inserted vaginally, which most doctors believe is safe to use as the chances of the hormone entering the bloodstream are minimal. Make sure you take expert medical advice before experimenting with any of the many products available on the market.

The vaginal walls can start to thin and literally waste away (a condition known as vaginal atrophy) as a result of breast cancer treatment. The use of a lubricant and vaginal dilator, available in many hospitals, can help to improve this condition and may even help prevent it.

If you and your partner are totally honest with yourselves you may find the problem with your sex life is more psychological than physical – in which case openness and plenty of communication are the best medicine.

It’s common for women who have undergone a mastectomy to worry about their appearance and feel uneasy about sex after surgery. If you’ve decided against a reconstruction, or you’re waiting for one, and you need an image boost, you’ll find plenty of sexy lingerie specifically designed for mastectomy patients (available on the Internet and in specialist high street stores). So throw caution to the winds and treat yourself to some slinky leopard print lingerie from a company such as NottiWear (http://www.nottiwear.com), set up by a Canadian breast cancer survivor.

Counseling and Psychological Therapy

If either you or your partner are suffering from a prolonged bout of depression brought on by your breast cancer, sexy lingerie probably won’t help and you should consider professional therapy. Ideally, find a counselor or trained therapist who has special expertise both in the fields of cancer and sex-related problems (your oncologist or breast cancer nurse may be able to recommend someone).

Knowledge and communication are powerful tools when it comes to overcoming psychological barriers. Your partner might, for example, be concerned about you being radioactive or that he might somehow “catch” cancer from you. Try to find out exactly what his fears and anxieties are so you can deal with them.

Many couples fear sex is unsafe after chemotherapy and that the toxic chemicals from the female might somehow transfer to her partner during intercourse. There’s no evidence to suggest that chemo drugs can pass into vaginal fluid or semen. But it’s advisable to use condoms for a few days after finishing chemotherapy because a woman’s low white blood cell count makes her particularly vulnerable to infection.

For more in-depth knowledge on this neglected topic of sex during and after breast cancer you might want to read Deborah Hobler Kahane's "No Less a Woman - Femininity, Sexuality and Breast Cancer" available online at Amazon

Or try Leslie Schover's “Sexuality and Fertility After Cancer” also from Amazon

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