Sexual Function an Issue for Breast Cancer Survivors

Sexual Function an Issue for Breast Cancer Survivors

About 70% of breast cancer survivors reported in a recent study that they had difficulty having sex, according to an article published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The many physical and emotional changes that follow a cancer diagnosis can affect sex and intimacy. Two of the most common sexual concerns expressed by women after a cancer diagnosis are loss of libido and vaginal dryness.

Factors that may influence the likelihood of sexual problems among breast cancer survivors include body image (which may vary by type of surgery) and hormonal therapies such as aromatase inhibitors.

To better understand how a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment affects sexual function and body image, researchers evaluated 1,011 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer within a year of the study.

  • 70% of participants reported sexual dysfunction.
  • Factors associated with a higher incidence of sexual dysfunction included being postmenopausal, experiencing menopausal symptoms, and using aromatase inhibitors.
  • 77% of participants reported menopausal symptoms, which made them twice as likely to experience problems with sexual function. This association was strongest among women taking aromatase inhibitors.
  • Body image issues were associated with a higher rate of sexual dysfunction.
  • Treatment with tamoxifen was not associated with a higher rate of sexual dysfunction.

A majority (70%) of breast cancer survivors in this study experienced problems with sexual function. The researchers conclude that sexual dysfunction is more common among women taking aromatase inhibitors, as use of these drugs may cause menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, which may make intercourse painful and less pleasurable overall. Because problems such as vaginal dryness can be treated, women are advised to discuss concerns about sex and sexuality with their healthcare provider. Women may also find it helpful to talk openly with their partners about how their sexual needs have changed.

Reference: Panjari M, Bell RJ, and Davis SR. Sexual function after breast cancer. Journal of Sexual Medicine [early online publication]. September 23, 2010.

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