Intimacy After Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on May 31, 2011
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Sex probably won’t be your first concern if you have breast cancer.  But as you recover, you’ll likely want to feel sexy again. Unfortunately, treatments for breast cancer can douse desire and pleasure.  Here are ways to get your sexy motor purring again.

  • Don’t blame your head. Chemotherapy and/or the removal of your ovaries (if you have breast cancer stemming from BRAC genes that also raise the risk for ovarian cancer) lessen desire and cause vaginal dryness, says urologist and sex expert Jennifer R. Berman, MD, director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center in Los Angeles and co-author of Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman (Hyperion, 2006): “It’s hormonal.  Chemotherapy is toxic and affects glandular function so estrogen and progesterone drop.  The ovaries and adrenal glands are affected too.  And the effects can last longer than two years.”
  • Consider switching meds.  If you have a breast cancer fed by estrogen, your doctor may prescribe aromatase, a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) that blocks the effects of estrogen in the breast but also leads to vaginal dryness. “Aromatase may have more sexual side effects than tamoxifen, another SERM,” says Berman.  “But it may have fewer undesirable effects like hot flashes.”   Talk to your doctor about choices.
  • Add estrogen locally.  You don’t have to put up with Sahara.  For vaginal dryness, Berman recommends vaginal estrogen in tablet or ring form: “There’s limited absorption into the blood stream, making it safe and well tolerated in women with breast cancer.”
  • Try water-based lubricants. “These over-the-counter products can help dryness and arousal,” says Berman, a spokesperson for one option, Wet Light.  Other common ones: Astroglide, KY Liquid. Water-based ones won’t damage condoms—as oil-based might—and they rinse from the body more easily.
  • Go natural.  Berman also likes over-the-counter vaginal dryness products that contain natural lubricants like vitamin E, grape seed, sweet almond, sunflower, or olive oil. “Use one in-between or in addition to prescription vaginal estrogen.”
  • Talk it out.  If desire is gone and/or you just don’t feel sexy, consider a sex therapist or counselor, says Berman. “Sexual health is a critical part of general health.  A therapist can help a woman regain self-confidence.”