Most woman with breast cancer ‘unaware’ of treatment’s impact on sex life

More than three-quarters of women with breast cancer are not being warned about the impact treatment could have on their sex lives, a survey has suggested.

Research conducted by charity Breast Cancer Now found that 77% of patients were not informed about the potential problems for sex and intimacy the therapies could cause.

Nearly half of more than 1,000 women diagnosed with the condition (46%) said they had faced sexual difficulties including vaginal dryness and a loss of libido.

Some 51% of affected women said the problems continued more than three years after the start of treatment.

Breast Cancer Now estimate that out of the 54,000 women diagnosed with the common cancer each year, over 42,000 women are not told about the potential issues by their hospital teams.

Treatment for breast cancer can involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as long term hormone therapies taken for between five and 10 years.

These can cause longer-term problems similar to an early menopause including fatigue and hot flushes, as well as vaginal dryness or a reduced libido.

Nearly a third of respondents said they had libido as a result of their diagnosis and 26% experienced vaginal dryness.

Lorna Whiston, a 25-year-old from Cheshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2019 and said the side-effects had impacted her intimacy with her fiance.

She said: “No-one warned me about the impact treatment can have on sex and intimacy which, for me, has included loss of libido and vaginal dryness, caused by drugs which have put me into an early menopause.

“Treatment, particularly the surgery, also impacted my confidence as the scars are a constant reminder that I’ve had cancer and my new breasts feel alien, like they’re not part of my body.

“(Sex) is a big part of our relationship and it helps maintain our connection.

“I don’t want cancer to take it away from us, it has already taken enough.”

Two-thirds of women reported that sexual problems following therapy had stopped them having sex completely, often for extended periods of time.

Only around one in 10 women experiencing these difficulties were referred to support services or groups.

Baroness Delyth Morgan (pictured), chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, called the findings “incredibly concerning”.

She said: “Thousands aren’t being prepared for the possibility of a loss of libido, vaginal dryness, or pain after treatment, despite huge numbers living with these devastating sexual difficulties, often for years.

“For many women, the impacts of breast cancer simply don’t end when they walk out of the hospital doors, and the side effects from treatment can impact every facet of their lives.

“For too long, sexual difficulties have remained a hidden effect of breast cancer treatment, reinforcing a sense of taboo and preventing women from accessing the support they need.

“Without a conversation to prepare them for the possible effects on their sexual function and relationships, women can be unsure of where to turn.”

Breast Cancer Now have called on the NHS to inform people diagnosed with breast cancer about the impact surgery and drugs can have on women and are now working with high street retailer Ann Summers to increase awareness.

The charity aims to raise £100,000 in conjunction with Ann Summers through sales of a branded product range and fundraising.

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