How does breast cancer treatment influence sexuality of women? Which sexuality issues and the side effects of treatment should be discussed with health care professionals?


Women undergoing breast cancer treatment whether it is lumpectomy, mastectomy or reconstruction, need information about physical and psychological effects of the treatment. Along with the physical side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, safety issues of having an implant, libido and sexaulity during various stages of cancer and after therapy, menopausal problems and fertility effects of chemotherapy, especially for premenopausal women need to be addressed. Women are affected sexually by diagnosis and treatment – there is psychological pain in confronting the changes in the body,feelings of anger and victimization, depression and a feeling of inadequacy in body image and femininity. There can be issues of reproduction and fertility. Sexual changes that are experienced immediately after chemotherapy may be loss of desire, diminished arousal, and weakened orgasm. It is not unusual to become temporarily inorgasmic. Much of these problems are caused by anxiety and fear of rejection rather than actual physical effects.

Healthcare professionals usually deal with the immediate issues of treatment and recovery. There are very few discussions about sexuality. The dialogue regarding sexual issues has to be open and an integral part of the treatment. Women should not go through this experience with the presumption that they won’t have any problems or that everything will go back to normal immediately after cancer treatment. Even if they only discuss general issues of sexuality and side effects, health care professionals can provide resources and referrals to trained professionals in the area of sexuality. Patients should be encouraged to get back to a normal routine as soon as possible. That’s one of the best ways to feel whole and good about yourself again. Health care professionals should be sensitive to all patients’ issues and concerns. Strong psycho-social services should be available from the very beginning of diagnosis and treatment. Support groups should be available for support to the patient and her partner.