Body Image and Sexuality After Breast Cancer

Learning to be comfortable with your body during and after breast cancer treatment is a personal journey, one that is different for every woman. Information and support can help you cope with these changes over time.

Feeling good about your body during and after breast cancer treatment

Along with the emotional stress that cancer and its treatment can cause, many women with breast cancer also find themselves coping with changes in their appearance as a result of their treatment.

Some changes may be short term, such as hair loss. But even short-term changes can have a profound effect on how a woman feels about herself. A number of options are available to help you cope with hair loss, including wigs, hats, scarves, and other accessories. Alternatively, some women choose to use their baldness as a way to identify themselves as breast cancer survivors.

Other changes are more permanent, like the loss of part or all of a breast (or breasts) after surgery. Some women choose to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild the breast mound. If you decide not to have breast reconstruction, you can decide whether to wear a breast form or prosthesis or not.

Sexuality after breast cancer

You may have concerns about sexuality after breast cancer. Physical changes, especially after breast surgery, can make some women less comfortable with their bodies. There may be a loss of sensation in the affected breast. Other treatments for breast cancer, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy, can change your hormone levels and may affect your sexual interest and/or response.

Relationship issues are also important. Your partner might worry about how to express love physically and emotionally after treatment, especially after surgery. But breast cancer can be a growth experience for couples – especially when partners take part in decision-making and go along to treatments.

To learn more, see Sexuality for the Woman with Cancer.

Finding help and support

Regardless of the changes you may experience, it's important to know that there is advice and support out there to help you cope with them. Speaking with your doctor or other members of your health care team is often a good starting point. There are also many support groups available, such as the American Cancer Society Reach To Recovery program. This program matches you up with a local volunteer who has had breast cancer. Your Reach To Recovery volunteer can answer many of your questions. She can give you suggestions, additional reading material, and advice. Remember that she's been there and will probably understand.

Some studies suggest that younger women tend to have more problems adjusting to the stresses of breast cancer and its treatment. It can feel socially isolating. Younger women might also be more affected by issues of sexuality or fertility. Some younger women might still be thinking about starting a family or having more children, and they might worry about how the cancer and its treatment might affect this. Others might have already started families and might worry about how they might be affected.

If you are having trouble adjusting after a breast cancer diagnosis, a counselor or a support group can often be helpful. If you aren’t sure who can help, call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 and we can put you in touch with a group or resource that may work for you.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Jagsi R, King TA, Lehman C, et al. Chapter 79: Malignant tumors of the breast. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.

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Last Medical Review: October 3, 2019 Last Revised: October 3, 2019

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