Breast Cancer Treatment and Sex

Breast Cancer Treatment and Sex

Breast cancer patients of all ages can experience sexual dysfunction. It is part of the normal aging process, but breast cancer treatments can make the problem more severe. Too many sufferers, this comes unexpected, and they worry that their experience is not normal. The reality is however that half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer experience long-term female sexual dysfunction (FSD). FSD can last 2 to 5 years and may not resolve for some women. The causes are both on the physical and the psychological side, and the risk that they remain even after the treatment regime is completed is very real. This places sexual problems among the most common and enduring side-effects of cancer treatment.

During treatment, women and men are under stress, which can reduce sex drive. Sex being an important stress reliever, it is important to not let this drag you into a vicious circle. The emotional chaos of treatment increases the risk of depression.

Next to these emotional challenges during treatment, there are physical adversities, too. The exhaustion that empties energy reserves and makes initiation of sexual activity difficult are a couple physical detriments to a breast cancer patient’s sexuality. The side-effects like nausea, that make you feel unsexy (on top of that, anti-nausea medication sometimes decreases sex drive). Some treatments can cause vaginal pain or even ulcers. And some pain medications also contribute to sexual dysfunction. Some women also go through treatment-induced menopause. They have lower levels of the “sex hormones” estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, hot flashes and mood swings, decreased desire or arousal, vaginal soreness, dryness, tightness, a thinner and shorter vaginal wall that makes intercourse painful, and they have more difficulties reaching orgasm.

Breast Cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Systemic hormone therapy is not recommended for most women with breast cancer. Many over-the-counter products for treating hot flashes contain hormones. Discuss any products with your physician before using them.

Localized hormone treatment can help counter sexual side effects. One common therapy is vaginal estrogen treatment. It is inserted low in the vagina and provides a small, localized dose of estrogen. The localized treatment ensures that only a minimal amount is absorbed into system. The treatment restores elasticity and moisture to the vagina. Discuss localized hormone therapy with your physician before you take it up.

The hormone testosterone impacts female sex drive. It is produced in ovaries and adrenal glands. If you suffer from a loss of libido, you can discuss a hormone evaluation with your physician. There is some debate about the safety of the treatment, so it is really important to talk to your doctor.

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