Breast cancer survivor shares what its like navigating sexual intimacy after cancer diagnosis

Younger women fighting breast cancer often endure more intense menopausal symptoms than those experienced naturally. Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Younger women fighting breast cancer often endure more intense menopausal symptoms than those experienced naturally. Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Published Oct 13, 2023


Breast cancer is one of the four most frequent types of cancer seen in women and the second leading cause of death from cancer. Throughout the rest of the world, the rate of breast cancer is steadily growing.

Every woman has an image of her body that reflects her whole self, health, and sensuality. For breast cancer survivors, any change in their appearance can lead to a negative self-image and a range of emotional challenges.

They may feel dissatisfied with their altered appearance, experience a sense of losing their femininity and body wholeness, hesitate to see themselves unclothed, feel less attractive, constantly self-conscious, and unhappy with surgical scars.

These are just a few hurdles they may face.

Débora Lindley López's journey resonates with countless survivors. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the young age of 28, unexpectedly thrusting her into a challenging battle.

Within a month of undergoing chemotherapy, she experienced medically induced menopause, which can be a temporary or permanent side effect of treatment.

Younger women fighting breast cancer often endure more intense menopausal symptoms than those experienced naturally. Hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness become unwelcome companions, further complicating their recovery journey.

The impact of breast cancer treatment goes beyond changes in hormones. Many survivors undergo a partial or total mastectomy, resulting in a loss or diminished sensation in the breasts.

This incredible change affects not only their physicality but also their intimacy and pleasure.

Women know breasts are an important erogenous zone, adding to the complexity survivors must navigate. Coping with this shift requires immense strength and an unwavering determination to reclaim what has been lost.

Up to 75% of women treated for breast cancer report sexual problems at some point in their cancer journey.

Speaking to the HuffPost, cancer survivor Lindley López, who is now 31 and the manager of community support at the Young Survival Coalition, shared her own experience with readjusting to the sexual challenges that came with the diagnosis, stating.

She said: “Losing my breasts was incredibly demoralising, seeing myself with loose, sewed-up skin, no nipples, and tubes hanging out of me was desexualizing to the core.”

As her libido plummeted, she found herself questioning whether she would ever desire sex again, if she could still experience climax,# and if she would ever feel like a sexual being. The fear of losing this integral part of herself haunted her.

“The erotic zones that used to edge me into a place of intimacy were either completely gone, or they were numb from being poked and prodded. My go-to foreplay areas were now a place of trauma and pain,” shared the mom of one.

The physical and emotional toll of her breast cancer treatments had reshaped her perception of her body and her ability to experience pleasure.

Despite her partner's attempts to reassure her and find beauty in her scars, it only deepened her feelings of shame and anxiety. The reminder of her altered physicality only intensified her inner turmoil.

“I felt as though I didn’t deserve to feel sexy or beautiful. The deep sense of loss, embarrassment, and grief for what used to be haunted me during those moments of intimacy.”

Professional expert Sharon Bober, a psychologist and director of the sexual health programme at the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, shes light on the often overlooked aspects of physical and sexual concerns faced by cancer patients.

According to Bober, these concerns can be divided into two categories - some more evident while others are less apparent.

When discussing this topic, there tends to be a heightened focus on the visual aspects, such as the appearance of reconstructed breasts outside of clothing or how a sexual partner will react to a reconstructed nipple and areola.

However, Bober points out that the physical changes that cannot be seen are equally distressing for patients.

Even with reconstruction, patients may experience a loss of sexual sensation in the breast, ongoing tenderness, or discomfort due to issues like lymphedema (Lymphedema refers to tissue swelling).

In a chat with HuffPost, she said touch and breast play with a partner is very different when people do not have sensation - it can be complicated figuring out what that means for sexual activity.

The absence of sensation poses unique challenges, raising questions about sexual compatibility and adaptation.

Furthermore, another common issue faced by women after breast cancer is significant vaginal dryness and pelvic floor dysfunction. This is often attributed to the loss of oestrogen, resulting in discomfort and further impacting their sexual well-being.

Because of the genito-urinary symptoms of menopause (GSM), either solo sex or sex with a partner can quickly become uncomfortable or even painful.

Sexual wellness during and after breast cancer treatment is becoming more prevalent as a result of ongoing research and open dialogues.

Since 2018, the American Society of Clinical Oncology has advised doctors to discuss the potential consequences of cancer and treatment on sex with every adult cancer patient, male or female.

Sadly, many women do not receive information regarding sexual health throughout cancer.

The following is a list of sex advice experts think every breast cancer patient needs to hear:

Know that it’s normal to not feel sexual.

If you’re struggling to feel sexual again, know that that’s entirely normal.

Open communication

Experts stress the importance of open and honest communication with your partner about your feelings, concerns, and desires. This can help both partners understand each other's needs and work together to navigate changes in intimacy.


It’s important to recognise that your body may have changed, and embracing self-love can positively impact your sexual well-being.

Patience and exploration

Breast cancer patients are encouraged to approach intimacy with patience and a willingness to explore new ways of experiencing pleasure. This may involve trying different positions, using lubricants, or incorporating sensual activities that focus on emotional connection.

Seek professional guidance

Experts often recommend seeking the guidance of healthcare professionals who specialise in sexual health or working with a certified sex therapist.

These professionals can provide personalised advice, address specific concerns, and offer guidance on techniques or treatments that can enhance sexual well-being.

Support groups

It is important to join support groups or seek out resources specifically tailored to breast cancer patients' sexual health. These platforms can provide a safe space to share experiences, learn from others, and access additional information or support.