The Beacon June FY22

Sex and intimacy AFTER BREAST CANCER

Janine Porter-Steele

B ody image changes, loss of libido and the side effects of menopause are just some of the issues that can affect your sexual wellbeing after a breast cancer diagnosis. Janine Porter-Steele, Clinical Nurse Manager at Wesley Hospital Choices Cancer Support Centre in Brisbane, shares some ways you can support your sexual wellbeing. Janine’s background is in cancer care nursing and she has a particular interest in the impact of cancer on sexual wellbeing. What are the common side effects of breast cancer treatments that may impact sexual health? Chemotherapy and hormone- blocking therapies can cause or increase menopausal symptoms. Menopause can reduce your libido, cause vaginal dryness and make intercourse painful. Men undergoing hormone-blocking therapy can experience changes in libido or erectile dysfunction. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. The side effects you are experiencing are very personal but unlikely to be unique. How can these side effects impact your wellbeing? These changes, along with any surgery you may have, can be very confronting. You may look and feel different. So it’s natural that your body image may be affected. Body image issues, sexuality and emotional intimacy are all inter-connected.

Can these side effects affect your relationship with your partner? Yes. Many people say they don’t even want to think about sex until after they’ve finished treatment. They go into treatment with oestrogen in their bodies but come out the other side with reduced levels, which puts them into menopause. At the same time, their partner may be worried about hurting them or pressuring them for intercourse but instead come across as disinterested. Communicating with your partner is key. Let them know how you feel. You can have sex without intimacy and intimacy without sex. Sometimes it’s just about touch and connection. What are some tips to help improve intimate relations? You might find it helpful to: • Talk about your concerns with a health professional such as your GP or breast care nurse. Remember, they may not raise it unless you do. • If vaginal dryness is a concern, ask your medical oncologist if an oestrogen-based cream is appropriate for you to use to overcome pain during intercourse. • Try using a vaginal moisturiser or lubricant, or both, to manage vaginal dryness. • Recognise that your libido changes over time. Sometimes sexual desire can develop after you start being intimate

with your partner, rather than before. • Relaxation is important – take things slowly and gently. • Start with simple strategies and don’t give up too easily – if the first attempt doesn’t work, try again or try something different. • Practise self-exploration – get to know your body again. If you don’t know what works for you, neither will your partner. Who can I speak to if I have concerns? Find someone you feel comfortable with. It may be someone in your treatment team or your GP, your breast care nurse or an allied health professional, such as a women’s health physiotherapist or a sex therapist. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to one health professional, try another until you find the support you need. BCNA’s sexual wellbeing resources Hear more from Janine in BCNA’s Sexual health and wellbeing virtual conference . Read articles and find relevant resources on My Journey .

Listen to podcasts on Upfront about Breast

Cancer and What you don’t know until you do with Dr Charlotte Tottman.


June 2022 | Issue 91

Breast Cancer Network Australia

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