Sex and fertility after treatment for breast cancer in women
This section is about the effects cancer and treatments can have on your sex life. There’s also information about contraception, future pregnancy and your ability to have children (fertility)
Breast cancer, its treatments and side effects may affect your sex life and your feelings about yourself as a woman.
Difficulties often gradually improve after treatment, although for some women, it may take longer.
There may need to be a period of adjustment for you and your partner. You may feel insecure and worry whether or not your present or a future partner will find you sexually attractive.
It can help to try to talk about it with them if you feel things are awkward between you.
Cuddles, kisses and massages can show 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.
Let your doctor or nurse know if any difficulties with your sex life don’t improve. They may be able to reassure you and can 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.
Your doctor will advise you not to use contraception that contains hormones such as the pill, or coils (intra-uterine devices) that release hormones. Coils that don’t contain hormones or barrier methods, such as condoms or the cap, are usually the most suitable. Your breast care nurse can give you advice.
Having a family can be an important part of life after cancer. Some women, particularly if they are under 35, don’t have difficulties getting pregnant naturally after treatment.
Doctors sometimes advise women to wait for two years. This is because it’s during this time that breast cancer is most likely to come back. But waiting also gives women time to recover from treatment. Studies show that getting pregnant after breast cancer doesn’t increase the risk of it coming back. It’s always a good idea to talk to your cancer specialist if you’re thinking about pregnancy.
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. But in younger women, even though their periods may stop during treatment, they may start again after it’s finished.
It’s important to talk to your cancer specialist about your fertility before your treatment starts. Sometimes it may be possible to remove eggs from your ovaries before treatment. These can be fertilised with a partner’s sperm, and the embryos (fertilised eggs) can be frozen and stored to use later. Women without a partner can have their eggs frozen and stored.
Becoming infertile can be very 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 doctor or nurse to arrange this for you.
You might find it helpful to watch our video of how Amanda coped with the effect of breast cancer on her sex life.