Study Suggests Cancer Affects Sexual Health of Breast Cancer Patients
- “The Big C Podcast” host Lauren Mahon, 38, is a breast cancer survivor and uses her experience to openly discuss all aspects of the journey to help other women, including sex after cancer.
- A new research study found that most women diagnosed with breast cancer experienced some form of sexual dysfunction, including vaginal dryness, lack of desire and arousal for sex, and pain upon penetration.
- Women in the study found that erotica and masturbation helped offset sexual dysfunction. However, researchers suggested clinicians be more transparent with women diagnosed with cancer so they can be emotionally prepared for this stage of their journey.
- Some cancer treatments may completely change a person’s approach to sex, but that doesn’t mean survivors can’t have healthy sex lives afterward.
- Dr. Jeanne Carter, a sexual psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering, suggests women practice mindfulness to help get their minds and body in sync regarding their sexuality.
- Mindfulness intervention helps women feel more comfortable with themselves, ultimately allowing them to feel mentally turned on.
“You, Me and the Big C Podcast” host Lauren Mahon is a breast cancer survivor who transparently shares all aspects of the cancer journey on her show. Her stories include how she reclaimed her sexual health during treatment and survivorship.
“Sex isn’t the first thing you think of when you’ve gone through a cancer diagnosis, but people don’t realize the impact intimacy has on every aspect of your life,” Mahon told Cosmopolitan during an interview.Read More
“There’s a lot that goes on with your body during cancer, and it can massively impact your capacity for sex and feel desirable,” she continued.
View this post on Instagram
Christina von Hippel led the team of researchers for the study from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, studied 501 women between the ages of 30 and 79 who were diagnosed with breast cancer. They were asked about their sexual function in the areas of pain reduction, intimacy and relationship enhancement, desire and arousal enhancement, and emotional coping. Vaginal dryness, pain upon penetration, struggles with desire, and arousal were all listed examples of challenges the women faced.
“34.7 percent reported using a technique they discovered themselves or that was recommended by someone other than a clinician to improve sexual functioning,” the study found.
Some of the women found that coping mechanisms such as lingerie, reading erotica materials, and masturbation helped offset sexual dysfunction.
“Most women discovered coping techniques without the help of clinicians.” The researchers suggested more clinicians open a dialogue about sexual function with breast cancer patients to help them with this stage of the journey.
Helping Patients Reclaim Their Intimacy
- ‘Can You Have Sex?’: Beloved Cleveland TV Anchor Robin Swoboda Jokes About Doctor’s Questions Before Breast Cancer Surgery
- ‘It Ain’t Over,’ Says 73-Year-Old Suzanne Somers About Sex After Cancer
- ‘What About Sex?’ — Ovarian Cancer Survivor Mareva Godfrey on Her Sex Life After Ovarian Cancer Treatment
- Intimacy After Cervical Cancer — “It’s a Journey”
- Sex & Intimacy: Getting Into the Overlooked Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
Sex After Cancer
“A lot of women have a fear of pain, a fear of performance,” Dr. Jeanne Carter, a sexual psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering, told SurvivorNet.
“Their partners can have a fear of hurting their partner, or everybody may feel frustrated if sexuality is not experienced in the same way as it was before, so it feels like another loss with cancer,” Dr. Carter continued.
Just because you are faced with cancer does not mean your sex life must end. Everyone copes with this differently; giving yourself grace with this sensitive subject is important.
“In the setting of treatment, when a woman decides to be sexual again, it is really her decision,” Dr. Carter says.
“It’s not uncommon for me to meet with someone in the post-treatment setting, and they’ll describe to me that when they didn’t have hair, they didn’t feel sexy, and that it just wasn’t the right timing for them — which is completely appropriate and okay. I think people don’t need pressure as they’re going through treatment about those issues and need to be able to talk to their partners about that,” Dr. Carter said.
WATCH: Deciding when to be intimate again.
While some women can make their sex lives a priority, many find they lack the energy while their body is going through so many changes. Dr. Carter also pointed out that many women, when they’re dealing with these sexual issues, feel a sense of guilt — but she considers guilt a wasted emotion. Dr. Carter suggests practicing mindfulness to help women align their emotions.
The ultimate goal of the mindfulness intervention was to make women feel more comfortable with themselves, which ultimately allowed them to feel mentally turned on.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- What are the potential side effects of my cancer treatment?
- What kind of products can I use to help improve my sex life?
- Is there anything my partner should be aware of before we are intimate?
- What can I do if I feel self-conscious or frustrated about changes to my body?