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Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center / Centers & Clinics

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Symptom Management


If you are suffering from treatment side effects that disturb your quality of life, speak to your doctor. There may be ways of decreasing undesirable side effects while still reducing your risk of a breast cancer recurrence. These tools include diet changes, stress reduction techniques, acupuncture, vaginal lubricants and antidepressants. For lifestyle changes that may help ease side effects, read our recommendation for the ten lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk of recurrence.

Sexual side effects

Body image

After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation your body will look and feel different. Your hair may be growing back, you may have new breasts, you will have additional scars from surgery, and your sexual response may have changed. It is important to realize that it will take time for you to get to know and accept the “new you.” Try to remain patient with your body and remember that these changes did not occur overnight so learning how to accept them will take time too. If you find yourself struggling with this, remember that most breast cancer patients go through this adjustment. In the meantime, it may be helpful to visit a support group or speak to a trained professional such as a social worker or psychologist.

Body Image and Sexuality

Breast cancer survivors discuss accepting their bodies after breast cancer surgery - learning how to be comfortable with the changes that occurred, and how others responded to these changes.

Sexual difficulties

Couples often reduce or discontinue sexual intercourse while a woman is in active treatment. Although this is very common, you and your partner may now look forward to having your sex life return back to normal. Many women experience one or more physical sexual side effects after active treatment is over, especially if receiving endocrine therapy. These include issues decreased interest in sex or difficulty reaching climax.

Rediscovering Sexuality after Breast Cancer

Young breast cancer survivors discuss body image and sexuality after cancer.

Some breast cancer survivors have found relief trying the following steps:

  • Talk honestly with your partner regarding how you are feeling emotionally and what difficulties you may be experiencing physically and encourage your partner to share his or her concerns, worries and needs as well.
  • To avoid fatigue, try napping or pick a time of the day for sex when you have the most energy.
  • If you are feeling uncomfortable with your body due to surgery or scars, try wearing lingerie that can make you feel more comfortable.
  • Break up the routine by having sex in another place besides your bedroom, change the lighting, modify positions, use candles, turn on soft music or experiment with intimacy aids.
  • Realize that not all intimacy must include sexual intercourse. There are many ways to be intimate with your partner such as kissing, touching, cuddling or hugging.
  • For vaginal dryness, lubricants and moisturizers can be very effective. Try KY Jelly, Astroglide, Replens or silicone-based lubricants. NOTE: The use of estrogen-containing lubricants should be discussed with you doctors to determine safety.

Communicating any of these issues with your partner can be helpful in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship. If problems continue, discuss them with your oncologist and/or gynecologist at your next visit.