You’ve heard those words “you’re cancer free,” but for the last several years, you’ve been taking anti-estrogen medicine. Although anti-estrogen therapy may help prevent your cancer from returning, the side effects can be a pain, and may be debilitating, draining and even unbearable for some women. The aches, stiffness and hot flashes have become part of your new day-to-day, but you’ve also noticed that everything is not functioning properly downstairs. First there are the most obvious issues—the physical changes, exhaustion, nausea and pain from treatment, self-image, empty energy reserves, and the emotional chaos from the diagnosis itself. But there are also many other issues that women and their partners may not even know they’ll have to face.
Women taking aromatase inhibitors were 50% more likely to develop sexual problems than those not taking aromatase inhibitors. The hormones in your body are changing in response to anti-estrogen therapy and as a result, some women may experience vaginal dryness and loss of libido.
Breast cancer survivors may find it harder to get aroused and even hard to orgasm, which is a physical response of reduced or blocked estrogen in the body. While undergoing treatment, try to focus on the pleasure from kissing and touch, rather than intercourse. De-emphasizing vaginal orgasm may actually allow it to happen again sooner than expected. There are also medical solutions that may be of help, so having an open conversation with your doctor and your partner could also help you find a solution.
Vaginal dryness can also make sex painful, itchy and can cause a great deal of anxiety. There are options for breast cancer survivors dealing with this issue, and talking with your doctor will allow you to find an option that is best for you and your other medications. Some options include estrogen-containing soft rings, vaginal estrogen suppositories and vaginal estrogen creams. These products designed for vaginal application have been proven to restore vaginal blood flow and improve the thickness and stretchiness of vaginal tissue.
Throughout the whole process of bringing intimacy back into your relationship, communication is key. Your femininity has changed, so be open and honest with your partner about what that means for both of you. Be patient with each other and use this as an opportunity to reconnect and try new things.
If you are ever unsure of anything, your doctor should be your first source of information. Having open and honest conversation with them about all that you are feeling, experiencing and needing is critical on your road to recovery.