“Sexuality and sexual well-being among [breast cancer] survivors of childbearing age have been studied by a few qualitative studies. Therefore, this qualitative descriptive research aimed to explore the experiences of [breast cancer] survivors of childbearing age regarding their sex life and related issues in an urban area of Iran, ”the study authors wrote.
Study investigators recruited 21 female breast cancer survivors living in Iran. All participants were married with a median age of 44.04 years (standard deviation [SD], 4.29); the ages of husbands were a median of 49.85 years (SD, 4.48). The age of these patients suggests that both men and women were at an age where sexual problems have a significant impact on lifestyle. The median duration of marriages was 21.33 years (SD, 6).
In this study, most women had a high school diploma (42.9%), were city residents (66.7%), and were housekeepers (71.4%). These women also had between 1 and 2 children (66.8%) and considered their economic status to be relatively sufficient (61.9%).
In the past 1-3 years, 42.9% of these women were diagnosed with breast cancer while 57.1% were diagnosed more than 3 years ago. All participants had received chemotherapy, 61.9% had undergone radiation therapy, and 90.5% had undergone mastectomy.
All of the participants reported having an “unsatisfied sex life” as a central theme of their experience. This was one of the main areas of quality of life for these survivors and was exasperated by the changes brought on by breast cancer and the unmet support needs of their spouses and the health care system. Additionally, sub-themes have been used to reflect what contributes to an unsatisfied sex life.
A subtopic of unwanted sexual function has been reported by most due to the negative impact of breast cancer treatment on sexual desire and sexual arousal in women. Problems such as reduced sexual desire, vaginal dryness and dyspareunia were linked to this effect. Additionally, participants who had a mastectomy reported negative sexual impact. Most of the participants experienced a decrease in sexual relations due to the physical and psychological effects left by breast cancer.
Another potential barrier to women’s unsatisfied sex lives was their religious beliefs, with some women being encouraged to obey their husbands and have sex even if they didn’t feel well. In addition, some women said they were ashamed of trying to express their sexual needs to their husbands.
In addition, some breast cancer survivors felt they had not received adequate information from health care providers about sexual problems and sexual complications. Some said they did not have access to information about the complications of breast cancer, its potential for recurrence and its symptoms. These women also did not feel that their support needs were being met by their husbands after their diagnosis and during treatment, which in turn affected their sexual behaviors.
Some participants also reported experiencing an emotional crisis brought on by changes related to their mastectomy and stopping their periods. These changes were described by some as a loss of their femininity and were related to the feeling that their husbands were negatively affected by their suppressed sexual needs.
“Our results have highlighted the importance of sexual and conjugal life among [breast cancer] survivors and reported on changes in their sexual health after treatment in British Columbia, ”the investigators concluded.
Maleki M, Mardani A, Ghafourifard M, Vaismoradi M. Qualitative exploration of sexual life in breast cancer survivors of childbearing age. BMC Women’s Health. 2021; 21 (1): 56. doi: 10.1186 / s12905-021-01212-9