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Breast Cancer and Sexual Dysfunction

As a board-certified OB/GYN, health coach and advocate for women, Dr. Sharan Abdul-Rahman of Today’s Woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has helped countless breast cancer survivors reclaim healthy and satisfying sex lives following breast cancer.

I'm a survivor...

She said, "I'm grateful to be alive, but I'm dead down there."
She said, "Since my surgery and radiation, I've lost sensation in my breast. I used to become sexual aroused when my breasts were stroked. Now I am no longer able to have orgasms. My husband is supportive, but I miss the sexual relationship that we used to have."
She said, "The surgical reconstruction after mastectomy has not enhanced by sexuality."

Any serious illness can take a toll on your sex life. Breast cancer is no exception. The sexual side effects of breast cancer can occur just after diagnosis, during treatment and linger long after treatment has stopped. According to the National Cancer Institute, about one out of every two women who've undergone breast cancer treatment experiences long-term sexual dysfunction.
Re-thinking your sexuality is part of the solution. Non-hormonal options are available. Good sex after breast cancer is possible.

What are common sexual problems following breast cancer?

Roughly half of all survivors of breast cancer and other female cancers develop sexual problems. Most often, these are caused by cancer treatment, rather than the cancer itself.
Chemotherapy can cause hormonal changes that either temporarily or permanently put younger women into menopause. And, of course, painful intercourse and diminished libido are two of the most common symptoms of the decrease in estrogen production that accompanies menopause.

Can breast cancer survivors undergo hormone replacement therapy?

Menopausal women who haven’t had breast cancer often remedy symptoms, including vaginal dryness and thinning vaginal tissues (also known as vaginal atrophy), with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The goal of HRT is to replicate pre-menopausal estrogen levels, thereby eliminating the symptoms caused by the natural decrease of hormones. However, most breast cancer survivors are not good candidates for HRT. That’s because about 80% are HR+ (hormone responsive positive). This means that their type of cancer requires estrogen, along with other hormones, to grow. Therefore, increasing estrogen levels is not safe.