9 October 2013
Over half (54%) of women under the age of 55 living with breast cancer say their sex lives have declined as a result of their cancer and treatment, with the impact for women of all ages potentially lasting years after diagnosis, according to new research by Macmillan Cancer Support1.
In the UK-wide YouGov poll of 532 women who have had surgery for breast cancer almost one in three (30%) of all women surveyed, and over half (54%) of women aged under 55, say they have sex less often than they used to as a result of their cancer.
One in six (16%) women say they have sex less often because it is too physically painful. And 16% say it’s due to their partner wanting to have sex less often.
Four in nine (45%) blame feeling body conscious and two in three (69%) say they have a lower sex drive.
Worryingly, almost one in three (30%) women who were diagnosed ten years ago or more say they have sex less often as a result of their cancer, suggesting that breast cancer could have long-term consequences for someone’s sex life.
There are currently 570,000 women in the UK living with the breast cancer.2
Gietta Gudge, 48, a breast cancer patient from Northamptonshire, says:
'Breast cancer left my sex life in tatters. I used to have sex with my husband every day, but after cancer, I was sore from the operation and my treatment caused menopausal symptoms that made sex painful.
'Radiotherapy burned my skin which added to the problem and chemotherapy made me feel so sick and tired that sex was the last thing on my mind.
'I feel like I’ve cheated death and the loss of sex is my payback.'
Jennifer Gorrie, Cancer Information Nurse Specialist of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
'Surgical wounds or skin damage from radiotherapy can cause some breast cancer patients’ chests to be tender for a time, making some sexual positions painful.
'Sexual intercourse can be uncomfortable too due to chemotherapy or hormonal treatments like Tamoxifen causing menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness.
'There are practical ways breast cancer patients can ease the discomfort so they can have a healthy sex life. They should speak to their GP or cancer specialist for help or get advice from Macmillan Cancer Support. It is vital that these women are given the right support at the right time to ensure they’re not dealing with this alone.'
Dr Daria Bonanno, Macmillan Consultant Clinical Psychologist, who helps breast cancer patients who are having difficulties enjoying their sex lives, says:
'Many breast cancer survivors find their sex lives can fall apart. As well as dealing with pain, they may find scarring from surgery or radiotherapy has affected their body confidence or treatment has dampened their libido.
'The impact of a waning sex life can be tough, chipping away at a patient’s self-esteem - and in extreme cases - leading to depression or contributing to a relationship breakdown.
'Couples should talk to each other about how cancer has affected their sex life so neither feels rejected. They may find it helpful to speak to a professional like a psychologist or counsellor, who can offer emotional support as well as practical advice.'
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) Macmillan Cancer Support wants to encourage breast cancer patients who need support around sex and cancer to get help from their GPs, by visiting www.macmillan.org.uk/Sex or by calling the Macmillan Support line on 0808 808 00 00.
For further information, please contact:
Catherine Jones, Consumer PR Specialist, Macmillan Cancer Support
0207 091 2496 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to Editors:
1. Macmillan Cancer Support commissioned a YouGov online survey of 2,292 UK adults living with cancer. Results in this release are based on the 532 women who underwent surgery as part of their treatment for breast cancer. 104 of this group were aged under 55. 156 were diagnosed ten or more years ago. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th and 17th June 2013. The figures have not been weighted.
2. Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Scenario 1).
See below for the exact questions asked within the survey that feature in this release. Please note the results presented here are based on all women with breast cancer who underwent surgery as part of their treatment.
Q. As a result of your cancer diagnosis and treatment, would you say you have sex more often, less often, or about the same amount?
Question asked of: All women with breast cancer who underwent surgery as part of their treatment (532)
I have sex more often than I used to 2%
I have sex less often than I used to 30%
My sex life has not changed 31%
Not applicable – I am not sexually active 30%
Prefer not to say 6%
Q. What would you say are the main reasons you have sex less often than you did before your cancer treatment? Please tick as many as apply.
Question asked of: All those saying they have sex less often than they used to (162)
I feel self-conscious or unhappy about my body 45%
I have a lower sex drive/don’t feel like having sex as much 69%
It is physically painful to have sex 16%
My partner does not want to have sex as often 16%
My partner and I separated – for reasons linked to my cancer 4%
My partner and I separated – for reasons not linked to my cancer 3%
Don’t know 1%
None of these 2%
About Macmillan Cancer Support
More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder.
But you don’t have to go through it alone. The Macmillan team is with you every step of the way.
We are the nurses and therapists helping you through treatment. The experts on the end of the phone. The advisers telling you which benefits you’re entitled to. The volunteers giving you a hand with the everyday things. The campaigners improving cancer care. The community there for you online, any time. The supporters who make it all possible.
Together, we are all Macmillan Cancer Support.