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What is the sexual impact of treatments for breast cancer?

The most common sexual side effects stem from damage to a woman's feelings of attractiveness. In our culture, we are taught to view breasts as a basic part of beauty and femininity. If her breast has been removed or changed, a woman may be insecure about whether her partner will accept her and find her sexually pleasing.
The breasts and nipples are also sources of sexual pleasure for many women. Touching the breasts is a common part of foreplay in our culture. For many women, breast stimulation adds to sexual excitement. Treatment for breast cancer can interfere with pleasure from breast caressing. After a mastectomy, the whole breast is gone. Some women still enjoy being stroked around the area of the healed scar. Others dislike being touched there and may no longer even enjoy being touched on the remaining breast and nipple. Some women who have had a mastectomy may feel self-conscious in sex positions where the area of the missing breast is more visible.
Breast surgery or radiation to the breasts does not physically decrease a woman's sexual desire. Nor does it decrease her ability to have vaginal lubrication or normal genital feelings, or to reach orgasm.
A few women have chronic pain in their chests and shoulders after radical mastectomy. During intercourse, supporting these areas with pillows and avoiding positions where your weight rests on your chest or arms may help.
If surgery removed only the tumor (segmental mastectomy or lumpectomy) and was followed by radiation therapy, the breast may be scarred. It also may be a different shape or size. During radiation therapy, the skin may become red and swollen. The breast also may be a little tender. Feeling in the breast and nipple, however, should return to normal.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.