Body Image and Sexuality After Treatment for Cancer

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Body Image and Sexuality After Treatment for Cancer

Topic Overview

How you feel about your body (your body image) may change when you have cancer. It is normal to be angry, frustrated, or disappointed after cancer surgery or during treatment for cancer. Changes that may affect a person's body image include:

  • Losing a breast because of breast cancer.
  • Having erection problems after prostate cancer treatment.
  • Not being able to bear children after endometrial cancer treatment.
  • Living with a colostomy bag, either for a while or permanently, because of colorectal cancer surgery.

Cancer or cancer treatments can cause physical or psychological changes that may lead to sexual problems.

  • Physical changes can include damage to or loss of nerves, blood vessels, or organs from the growth of the cancer or from the treatments to remove the cancer. For example, a man may not be able to have an erection, or a woman may have pain with intercourse. Also, general pain, fatigue, and discomfort can result from cancer or cancer treatment.
  • Psychological changes can include depression, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and stress caused by the diagnosis of cancer and changes in your body image after surgery and treatment for cancer. These psychological factors are often the most troublesome after treatment is complete.

The stress of being diagnosed with cancer may spill over into other areas of your life, including your personal and sexual relationships. Some people may experience less sexual pleasure or lose their desire to be sexually intimate. Or a man or woman without a partner may feel unsure about dating because of having a history of cancer.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about these feelings rather than waiting for him or her to ask you. Your doctor or nurse can answer your questions and refer you to groups that can offer support and information. Contact your local office of the Canadian Cancer Society to find a support group in your area. Talking with other people who have had similar feelings can be very helpful. Talking openly about your concerns with your partner may also help.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ross Berkowitz, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised February 1, 2011

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