Sexuality and breast cancer

Recently, Sexologist and Clinical Nurse Specialist Helena Green wrote an interesting article about sexuality and breast cancer. She wrote that not everyone will experience problems with their sexuality or sexual functioning and it is only considered a problem when it is causing distress for the woman or her partner and impacting negatively on their relationship. Sexual difficulties such as low libido and difficulty to orgasm are very common in our society, even for women who are otherwise healthy.

Therefore it’s important to have an understanding of how breast cancer treatment may affect you physically, such as induced menopause and how it can affect your sexuality in yourself and in your relationship.

Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and endocrine therapies reduce the circulation of oestrogen in the body which is important in managing oestrogen/progesterone positive breast cancer. This reduction of oestrogen can also cause vaginal dryness which may lead to painful sexual intercourse, vaginal atrophy, vulvae discomfort, urinary changes such as frequency or increased risk of urinary tract infections, hair and skin changes, hot flushes and weight changes.

Having said this, it is very important to talk to your doctor or specialist breast nurse to ensure that nothing else is happening, because many conditions and diseases that affect the vulva may have nothing to do with the reduced circulation of oestrogen and therefore it’s important to have symptoms assessed before commencing any over the counter treatments.

Everyone’s sexuality is different, so it’s important to speak about your sexual health with a health professional you feel comfortable with, so they can provide information, support and even refer you to a specialist if need be. Research suggests that overall quality of life and general wellbeing are often lower for women experiencing sexual difficulties, so be brave and seek out the help you need.

Breast Cancer Care WA offers free couples counselling or can assist couples to link in with suitable family therapists. Please call one of our Breast Care Nurses or Counsellors who will happily assist you in accessing the appropriate support. 

You can also contact the Menopausal Symptoms After Cancer Clinic at King Edward Memorial Hospital for information and support. Call the Clinical Nurse Specialist on 9340 2222 (pager number 3358) Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday only during usual business hours.

Or contact Helena Green at Relate - Sexuality and Intimacy Counselling in Perth and Bunbury on helena@relate-sexology.com.au or 0488 080 160. See www.relate-sexology.com.au for more details.