Changes to body image and sexuality
Body image after treatment
Having breast cancer can affect the way you feel about yourself (self- esteem) and make you feel self-conscious. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. Give yourself time to adapt to any changes. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing on the parts that have changed.
You may find that having a breast reconstruction or wearing a breast prosthesis improves your self-confidence. Or you may prefer to not have a reconstruction and “go flat”.
Areola tattooing is the process of tattooing the areola and nipple onto the breast following a mastectomy. Areola tattoos are typically done on breasts with implants, with and without nipple reconstruction. For some people getting a decorative tattoo to cover scars is a way to take control of their body and express themselves in a beautiful way.
Sex after treatment
Breast cancer can also reduce your desire for sex (libido). You may miss the pleasure you felt from the breast or nipple being stroked or kissed during sex. This may be the case even if you have a reconstruction. If breast stimulation was important for arousal before surgery, you may need to explore other ways of becoming aroused.
Some treatments for breast cancer can cause vaginal dryness, which can make penetration during intercourse painful.
For most people, sex is more than arousal, intercourse and orgasms. It involves feelings of intimacy and acceptance, as well as being able to give and receive love. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.
After treatment, you should not use a hormone-based contraceptive (“the pill” or hormone implants or injections). It is best to use condoms, diaphragms or intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs).
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Bruce Mann, Professor of Surgery, The University of Melbourne, and Director, Breast Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Marie Burke, Radiation Oncologist, and Medical Director GenesisCare Oncology, QLD; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Ruth Groom, Consumer; Julie McGirr, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; A/Prof Catriona McNeil, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Roya Merie, Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Eva Nagy, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Sydney Oncoplastic Surgery, NSW; Gay Refeld, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Breast Care, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Genny Springham, Consumer.
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