-Michaelann Liss, D.O.
Hematology/Oncology (Diseases of Blood; Cancer)
The Vancouver Clinic Medical Oncology
700 NE 87th Ave., Suite 320
Vancouver, WA 98664
A breast cancer patient commented, "The last thing I want right now is real intimacy or sex. Will I always feel this way?"
Intimacy and sexuality can be greatly impacted by both the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. This is complicated by many physical and emotional factors. Nausea, pain, medications and especially fatigue impact sexuality. These symptoms are most prominent during active treatment, but fatigue especially may persist for many months, affecting overall quality of life and sexual interest. These symptoms should be addressed in an ongoing manner with health care providers.
A woman's body image is often affected by alteration of or loss of her breast, hair loss and weight gain. Women may perceive their bodies as unattractive or unfamiliar. This creates a barrier to intimacy and will likely decrease her interest and confidence in her sexuality. Feelings of stress, depression, anxiety and hormonal changes brought on by chemotherapy-induced menopause may cause loss of intimacy and decreased sexual interest as well.
Not discussing these issues can create distance between partners as well as feelings of rejection. The most important step a woman can take is keeping lines of communication open by talking to her spouse or partner. Encourage them to talk also, as sharing feelings will maintain a basis for intimacy and trust during this vulnerable time. If this is difficult, seek a third party or counselor to help navigate better communication.
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Though there are considerable physical and emotional changes after a diagnosis of breast cancer, intimacy and a rewarding sexual life are achievable and should not be neglected as part of a woman's recovery process.