Breast cancer and chemotherapy treatment change your body in many ways. The drugs used to treat breast cancer can change how you feel sexually and affect your reproductive health.
Talk with your oncologist or nurse about how your chemotherapy treatment might affect your sexuality, both physically and emotionally. Knowing what to expect can help avoid some of the frustration later if symptoms do arise.
Although your oncologist may say it’s safe to have sex during your treatment, it’s perfectly normal to not have the desire for intercourse. Chemotherapy drugs can cause several side effects like nausea, tiredness, and weakness that can take away both your energy and drive for sex.
Loss of sexual desire is not the only symptom of chemotherapy that affects your sexual health. Many women also experience:
- Problems with fertility
- Early menopause (hot flashes, irregular or no menstrual periods, vaginal tightness)
- Dryness of the vagina
- Yeast infections
Tell your oncologist or nurse if you have any symptoms. Most of the side effects will go away after treatment. In the meantime, there may be things you can do to find relief. For example, over-the-counter-water-based lubricants or moisturizes can help with vaginal dryness. Also, to help prevent yeast infections, wear loose clothing and cotton panties to keep away moisture in the vaginal area. Your oncologist can also prescribe creams to treat the infections.
If you have plans to become pregnant in the future, tell your oncologist before you begin treatment. Many chemotherapy drugs can damage the ovaries needed for pregnancy and stop a woman’s menstrual period. For some women, fertility comes back after chemotherapy. For others, menopause may be permanent. Your oncologist can refer you to a fertility specialist who can let you know the best options for increasing your chances of getting pregnant after your treatment ends.
Physical symptoms are not the only thing that can affect your sexuality during chemotherapy. Your emotional well-being also plays a big part. Emotions can have a strong effect on your desire for sex due to any anxiety and fears you have during or after treatment. Coping with all of the issues that come with a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult. Stressful days can easily become another side effect that requires your attention.
Many women struggle with their body image as they go through chemotherapy. Body changes from surgery and losing your hair can take a big emotional toll on your self-esteem. This often makes sex a low priority.
But while your physical appearance may be changing, you’re still the same person. If you feel you need help coping with stress, talk to your team’s nurse or social worker. You may want to try simple relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation.
You and Your Partner
There will be many times when sexual intercourse is too uncomfortable or you’re just not up to it. But this doesn’t mean you have to stop being intimate. Talk with your partner about other ways of giving and receiving pleasure, like touching and stroking. Sometimes, just cuddling can be satisfying. Ask your partner to give you a back rub or foot massage and then return the favor. Holding hands and watching a movie also shows intimacy.
The most important thing is to talk with your partner. Open and honest communication is the best way to get through this tough time together. Couples coping with breast cancer who discuss their problems openly and express their feelings in a positive way have fewer sexual problems.
Many couples develop a tighter and more intimate relationship during this time when they talk openly. Try these tips to help communicate and stay intimate with your partner:
- Ask how your partner feels—Being a caregiver to a sick loved one is stressful. Let your partner know that expressing his or her frustration is normal too.
- Try something new—Start a new hobby you can both enjoy as a couple. Whether it’s learning a new language or how to cook, chances are you’ll both enjoy spending quality time together.
If you’re still having trouble communicating, don’t hesitate to talk with your team’s social worker or ask for a referral to a counselor.