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Sex After Breast Cancer: How Surgery Affects Intimacy

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

There is a connection between the way breast cancer is treated & the patient's future sex life

There are a lot of factors to consider when dealing with breast cancer, including deciding on a course of treatment and potential surgery and reconstruction. Now, a new study suggests that the type of surgery used to treat breast cancer also have an effect on the person’s post-op sex life.

More: Having Breast Cancer at 32 Put Me in Control of My Body

Research just published in The Annals of Surgical Oncology aimed to examine the long-term consequences of surgery to treat breast cancer, focusing on the impact on appearance and sexuality. The study involved surveying women who had surgery for invasive breast cancer or ductal carcinoma — including lumpectomy, mastectomy alone and mastectomy with reconstruction — about their satisfaction with the appearance of their breast, their comfort with a partner seeing the breast without clothing and how important they feel their breast is in intimacy and sex, both before and after their surgery.

More: Childhood Cancer Treatments May Actually Affect a Survivor’s Future Sex Life

Dr. Jennifer S. Gass, chief of surgery at Women & Infants Hospital and the head of the research team behind the study, noted in a news release that in an era when more early-stage breast cancer patients are opting for a mastectomy, there had not been previous research addressing breast-specific sensuality — in other words, the breast’s role during sexual intimacy.

Turns out most of the women involved in the study did see their breasts as an important part of their sex life before their surgery, but after their surgery report this has been significantly decreased, regardless of what type of surgery they had. But of the three types taken into account in this research, women who had lumpectomies reported the best post-op outcomes.

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This research is significant because while pink breast cancer “awareness” is plastered everywhere, the quality of life of those who have been treated for the condition is less frequently discussed — especially when it comes to their sex lives. Breasts are supposed to be “sexy” — and thinking of them after a major operation doesn’t quite fit this bill, so like so many aspects of women’s sexual satisfaction, it’s just swept under the rug.

"There is no doubt that overall survival is our number-one priority, but ensuring a good quality of life for cancer survivors is also vital, and that includes a 'breast-inclusive' perspective of sexuality in survivorship," said Gass.

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