Body Image and Sexuality After Treatment for Cancer

Topic Overview

The view you have about your body (your body image) may change when you have cancer. It is normal to be angry, frustrated, or disappointed after cancer surgery or during treatment for cancer. For example, surgery to remove a breast may profoundly affect a woman's body image, because the appearance of the female breast is emphasized in our society.

Sexual problems can be caused by physical or psychological changes related to the cancer or cancer treatment.

  • Physical changes can include damage to or removal of nerves, blood vessels, or organs from the growth of the cancer or by the treatments to remove the cancer. Pain during intercourse because of changes in the vagina can be caused by chemotherapy or hormone therapy. General pain, fatigue, and discomfort can result from cancer treatment.
  • Psychological changes can include depression, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and stress caused by the diagnosis of cancer and changes in your body image after surgery and treatment for cancer. These psychological factors are often the most troublesome after treatment is complete.

The stress of being diagnosed with cancer may spill over into other areas of your life, including your personal and sexual relationships. Some people may experience less sexual pleasure or lose their desire to be sexually intimate. Those without partners often stop dating, because they feel that a potential partner might reject them because of their history of cancer.

Discuss your concerns with your doctor, a counselor, or another health professional. You may also contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to help you find a support group. Talking with other people who may have had similar feelings can be very helpful.

Credits

Author Bets Davis, MFA
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Joy Melnikow, MD, MPH - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Updated August 18, 2009

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