- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Removal of a body part
Removal of a body part
If your cancer treatment involved the removal of a limb, breast or part of your genitals, it can cause feelings of grief, loss and anger. This can affect your sexual desire and your sexual confidence. It takes time to get used to how your body has changed and how that makes you feel. Try to remind yourself that you are loved for who you are, not for your particular body parts. For suggestions on restoring body image, see Changes in appearance. Talking to a psychologist or counsellor may help you improve your sex life and relationship, and ease distress after surgery.
Breast – Nipple and breast sensation usually stay the same after breast- conserving surgery, but may change after mastectomy. This can affect sexual arousal if you like being touched on the breast. The surgery may make you feel self-conscious or like you’ve lost a part of your identity.
Prostheses – People who’ve had a breast or testicle removed may use a prosthesis to improve self-esteem. This is a personal decision and not something everyone wants. Your specialist can give you more information about your options and what the procedure involves.
Anus – The removal of the anus is a major change, particularly if you have anal sex. It is a key erogenous zone for many people, and though some sex acts may not be possible, you can express intimacy through oral sex, cuddling and stroking. Penetration of the stoma (the opening created to remove waste after surgery) is not an option – it can cause serious physical harm and infections can be passed through the stoma.
Prostate – If the prostate is removed to treat prostate cancer, it can affect sexual pleasure when receiving anal penetration. For support, visit the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and download Understanding prostate cancer for LGBTIQA+ people.
Tips for sex and intimacy after the removal of a body part
- Look at yourself naked in the mirror to get used to the changes to your body, or use a handheld mirror to see the genital area.
- Show your partner the changes. If it feels okay, teach them how to touch the area in a way that feels nice.
- Accept that it may take time to feel comfortable about your body again.
- If you have had one or both breasts removed, see Breast Prostheses and Reconstruction.
- Touch your genitals to work out how your response has changed and what feels good. Explore other areas of your body that make you feel aroused when touched. This may take time and practice.
- If you are worried about the reaction of your partner (or a potential partner), remember that good communication will help. Sharing your concerns and keeping an open mind will help you explore new ways to be intimate.
- Ask your partner to stroke different areas of your body if your usual erogenous zone has been affected. This may include kissing and touching your neck, ears, inner thighs and genital area.
- If you’ve had a limb removed, try wearing your limb prosthesis during sex. If you prefer to take off the prosthesis, use pillows to support the affected limb.
- Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk to someone neutral about your feelings.
- Register for a Look Good Feel Better workshop. Call 1800 650 960 or visit lgfb.org.au.
- Talk to a sexual health physician, psychosexual counsellor or sexual therapist about the ways any change to your body may be affecting your relationship and sex life. Visit the Society of Australian Sexologists to find an accredited sexologist
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
Dr Margaret McGrath, Head of Discipline: Occupational Therapy, Sydney School of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andreea Ardeleanu, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker, Cancer Counselling Service, Canberra Health Service, ACT; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Kerrie Clover, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-Oncology Service, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Maree Grier, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Mark Jenkin, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Margaret Redelman OAM, Medical Practitioner and Clinical Psychosexual Therapist, Sydney, NSW; Kerry Santoro, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse Consultant, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services – Austin Health, Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.
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