From physical and emotional effects to body image & self-esteem, and the ability to conceive
NEW HAVEN, Conn., October 19, 2021--(BUSINESS WIRE)--As breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women of reproductive age, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine, and founder of MadameOvary.com, helps young women navigate breast cancer and its physical effects, the sexual and emotional changes that can negatively impact their feelings towards sex and intimacy, and concerns over their ability to conceive.
"No matter her age, a woman can expect sex and intimacy to feel physically and emotionally different after undergoing treatment for breast cancer," says Dr. Minkin. "However, women that are battling or have survived breast cancer have the unique opportunity to reclaim their sexuality by embracing their new bodies that are strong and beautiful. Solutions are available to help along the way, so don’t be afraid to ask your health care provider about intimacy, fertility, and side effects from treatment."
Here are some common issues experienced by breast cancer patients and survivors and ways to embrace and empower sexual and reproductive health:
Coping with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem towards sex: It’s common for women to experience a variety of emotions evolving from cancer treatment. Feelings of anxiety, struggles with coping, depression, or low self-esteem toward sex is completely normal, especially if the person is uncomfortable in their body or feels disconnected from their partner.
How to prepare for early menopause: Women are at risk for premature menopause due to breast cancer treatment, and may likely experience symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and weight gain. Declining estrogen levels associated with ovarian damage from chemotherapy may also cause women to experience these symptoms prematurely. Vaginal atrophy, irritation from the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls, is common in women who have experienced breast cancer and are receiving endocrine therapy, radiation, or chemotherapies. To promote healing of the vaginal tissue, try Replens Long-Lasting Vaginal Moisturizer, 2-3 times per week. Since penetrative sex can be painful due to irritation and lack of lubrication, Replens Silky Smooth silicone lube supplements the body’s natural lubrication, reduces abrasion to nil and enhances intimacy.
Fertility, chemotherapy, and the odds of getting pregnant: If you are premenopausal before your cancer diagnosis, your menstrual cycle and fertility may return after treatment. However, chemotherapy can damage the body’s eggs and ovaries and potentially cause irregular periods and infertility. Some treatments, like some hormonal therapies, only cause temporary infertility. When your regular period returns and you are ready to start trying to conceive, it’s always a good idea to have accurate, reliable pregnancy tests on hand. The First Response Early Result pregnancy test gives accurate results up to six days before the day of a missed period and can be found in the First Response Comfort Check pregnancy test kit. For added reassurance, use the EasyRead App, which scans the analog test result on First Response tests and converts your results into a simple ‘Pregnant’ or ‘Not Pregnant’ answer. Another helpful product to consider when trying to conceive is Pre-Seed Fertility-Friendly Lubricant, which should be used just before intercourse to increase your chances of conceiving as it supports sperm quality and motility. Many institutions sponsor a SIMS program, like Yale, Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber, so check to see if you have access through your institution.
Get to know your new body: Changes to breasts through surgery or treatment can impact intimacy due to a loss of feeling and body confidence. Exploring other erogenous zones like the neck and inner thigh may help with feeling more confident, comfortable, and satisfied during sex. Don’t be afraid of self-pleasure. Vaginal vibrators are great because they increase blood flow to the pelvis and help increase vaginal moisture. The Trojan™ Power Wand Deep Vibrations Massager can be readily found at the drugstore, it’s perfectly safe and can be used all over the body. Breast cancer treatment may also impact a woman’s body image with changes in breasts, loss of hair, and weight fluctuation, contributing to the emotional effects of post-cancer and treatment. These changes in appearance may cause women to feel less sexy or confident than they once did and may also contribute to a low libido.
"Although navigating intimacy post-treatment may feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, it is important to advocate for your health and do everything possible to feel empowered in your body again," adds Dr. Minkin. "Communicate effectively with your partner, speak with your doctor, and lean on your support system to help you along your journey."
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