Breast Cancer in women

Relationships and sex

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can put a strain on relationships. The effect of breast cancer on a relationship may depend on many things, including the level of commitment in the relationship, how long two people have been together, how long they have been living with the diagnosis, and how it affects day-to-day life. Here women talk about the effects of having breast cancer on their intimate relationships.

Although breast surgery will not affect the physical ability to have sex, a mixture of strong emotions - grief, fear, anger, resentment, lack of confidence - may in some way alter sexual feelings for a while. Anxieties about a partner's thoughts and reactions also play an important part.

Some women were concerned about their partner's feelings, and that he might hide his own anxieties in order to be supportive. Several explained how, after the initial shock of the diagnosis, their partner had been supportive and the relationship had grown closer. One of these women stressed that, while treatment of the cancer was her foremost concern, she also felt anxious about how her altered body image would affect the relationship with her partner.

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One woman discussed her husband's support on her decision to have a mastectomy and her changed feelings about her new body image. Another explained how her partner's support and sense of humour had helped them both cope better with her illness, and one young woman explained that getting married during her illness helped strengthen an already close relationship.

Some women said that their partner found their illness difficult to discuss. One described how this led to feelings of anger towards her husband, as well as a lack of interest in sex. Another woman described problems of communication with her partner and her feelings of rejection. Both of these women, however, also noted improvements with time.

One woman described how a disintegrating relationship broke under the strain of her illness. Another explained her partner's difficulties in coping with her diagnosis and the eventual break-up of the marriage.

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One young woman wondered whether issues about body image would affect future relationships, while two women explained that, despite doubts about the possibility of future relationships, they had met new partners.

Last reviewed May 2015.
Last updated June 2010.

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