Sex and fertility after breast cancer treatment
This section talks about the effects cancer and its treatments can have on your sexuality. We’ve also included information about future pregnancy and contraception, and your ability to have children (fertility).
Breast cancer, its treatments and their side effects may affect your sex life and how you see yourself as a woman (self image). This often gradually improves after treatment, although for some women it may take longer. Try not to think that sex is never going to be important in your life again. There will often be a period of adjustment for you and your partner, and with time most difficulties can be overcome.
You may feel insecure and worry whether or not your partner will still find you sexually attractive. Partners are often concerned about how to express their love physically and emotionally after treatment. They may not have a problem with your changed appearance, so it can help to try and discuss it if you feel that there’s awkwardness between you.
Cuddles, kisses and massages are affectionate and sensual ways of showing how much you care for someone, even if you don’t feel like having sex. You can wait until you and your partner feel ready – there’s no right or wrong time. If you feel very self-conscious, making love while partly dressed, or keeping the lighting low may be better for you.
Our section on sexuality and cancer covers these issues in more detail and has tips on ways of coping.
Let your doctor or nurse know if you’re having problems with your sex life. They may be able to reassure you and offer further help and support. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you can call uscall us on 0808 808 0000. Some people may find it helpful to talk to a sexual therapist. You can contact a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.
You might find it helpful to watch our video of how Amanda coped with the effect of breast cancer on her sex life.
Having a family can be an important part of moving on with life after cancer. Some women, particularly if they’re younger (under 35), have no difficulties getting pregnant naturally after treatment. Doctors sometimes advise waiting two years before getting pregnant because it is during this time that the cancer is most likely to come back. It also gives women time to recover from treatment. Studies show that pregnancy after breast cancer doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer coming back. It’s a good idea to talk to your cancer specialist first if you’re thinking about getting pregnant.
Women who have had breast cancer are usually advised not to use contraception that contains hormones, such as the pill or coils (intra-uterine devices) that release hormones. Non-hormonal coils or barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms or the cap, are usually the most suitable. Your cancer specialist, breast care nurse or GP can give you advice.
Some breast cancer treatments can affect your ability to have children (fertility). Chemotherapy can bring on an early menopause, especially in women who are closer to the menopause. It’s important to talk to your cancer specialist about your fertility before your treatment starts.
It’s sometimes possible to remove eggs from the ovaries before treatment. These can then be fertilised with a partner’s sperm, and the embryos (fertilised eggs) can be stored to use later. Women without a partner may be able to have their eggs stored, but this is still experimental.
There’s more detailed information in our section on cancer treatment and fertility for women.
Becoming infertile can be very hard for women to live with, whether or not they already have children. Fertility is a very important part of many people’s lives, and not being able to have children can seem especially hard when you already have cancer to cope with. Some women may find it helpful to talk through their feelings with a trained counsellor. If you need more specialist help, your doctor can arrange this for you.