Sex life

Breast cancer and its treatments and side effects may affect your sex life and your feelings about yourself as a woman.

Difficulties often slowly improve after treatment, but for some women it may take longer. You may feel insecure and worry about your current or future relationships.

If you have a partner, it can help to talk openly with them about your feelings. You may both need some time to adjust.

Let your doctor or nurse know if any difficulties with your sex life do not improve. They may be able to reassure you or offer further help and support. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you can call us on 0808 808 00 00.

Some people may find it helpful to talk to a sex therapist. You can contact a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.

Contraception

Your cancer doctor or breast care nurse will advise you not to use contraception that contains hormones. This includes the pill or coils (intra-uterine devices) that release hormones. This is because these can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.

Your GP can give you advice about methods of contraception. Coils that do not contain hormones, or barrier contraception methods such as condoms, a diaphragm or cap, are usually the most suitable.

Pregnancy

Having a family can be an important part of life after cancer. Some women do not have difficulties getting pregnant naturally after treatment, particularly if they are under the age of 35.

Your doctor may advise you to wait for 2 years before trying to get pregnant. This is because breast cancer is most likely to come back during this time. But it also gives women time to recover from treatment. Studies show that getting pregnant after breast cancer does not increase the risk of it coming back.

If you are taking hormone therapy and are thinking of getting pregnant, it is important to talk to your cancer doctor first. If you are taking tamoxifen, you must not get pregnant. This is because it may harm a developing baby.

Talk to your cancer doctor before you stop taking any medicines.

Fertility

Some breast cancer treatments may affect your ability to have children (fertility).

Your periods may stop during treatment. If you are a younger woman, they may start again after it has finished. If you are close to your natural menopause, chemotherapy can bring on an early menopause.

It is important to talk to your cancer doctor about your fertility before treatment starts. Sometimes it may be possible to remove eggs from your ovaries before treatment.

If you have a partner, these can be fertilised with their sperm, and the embryos (fertilised eggs) can be frozen and stored to use later. If you do not have a partner, you may be able to have your eggs frozen and stored.

Becoming infertile can be hard to live with, whether or not you already have children. Some women find it helpful to talk through their feelings with a trained counsellor.

If you need more specialist help, ask your cancer doctor or breast care nurse to arrange this for you.

Early menopause or menopausal symptoms

Some treatments can cause an early or temporary menopause. Hormonal therapies can cause side effects that are the same as menopausal symptoms.

Doctors do not recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is because it contains oestrogen, which could encourage breast cancer cells to grow. There are other ways menopause symptoms can be treated or managed.

If your menopausal symptoms are severe and nothing else has helped, some doctors may occasionally prescribe HRT. You will need to talk about this with your cancer doctor so you know the possible benefits and risks.

Early menopause can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). We have more information about looking after your bones, including helpful tips on keeping them healthy.

A number of organisations, including The Daisy Network, provide support to women going through the menopause.