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, can change your hormone levels and may affect your sexual interest and/or response.
Relationship issues are also important. Your partner may 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 our section on sexuality for women 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, who represent about 1 out of 4 breast cancer survivors, tend to have more problems adjusting to the stresses of breast cancer and its treatment. It can feel socially isolating. Younger women may also be more affected by issues of sexuality or fertility. If you are having trouble adjusting after a breast cancer diagnosis, look for a counselor or a support group directed at younger breast cancer survivors.
Last Medical Review: June 1, 2016 Last Revised: August 18, 2016
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