What impact does cancer have on sexuality and body image?

Cancer maybe a physical condition, but it has many mental and psychological ramifications on the patient. This especially holds true for women who are suffering from breast cancer and have undergone mastectomy. Extensive research revealed that apart from the physical pain, the emotional trauma is much more difficult to cope with and women tend to lose their self-confidence; especially considering that breasts are a symbol of sexuality and womanhood. Mastectomy has devastating effects on a woman’s perception of her beauty and sexuality. Many researchers have undertaken extensive research on this subject and have come up with many conclusions as well as suggestions.

Not only breast cancer, but other cancers too cause a defect in sexuality of both men and women. Cancer treatment includes chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy, and hormone replacement therapy. These treatments are formulated to kill or control the progression of cancer cells. However these treatments can also affect the sexuality of the person.

It can affect your interest in sex and your ability to get intimate and satisfy your partner sexually. It also greatly alters your perception of body image which all leads to many psychological conditions. Some effects of cancer treatment may be temporary, but some may lead to permanent effects.

cancer and sexualityUnderstanding Sexuality and Intimacy

Although it is a common tendency to relate sexuality with sexual intercourse, it is important to understand sexuality actually refers to who you are, what you perceive of yourself and what your sexual feelings are for others. The notion of sexuality means different things to different people and is highly influenced by factors such as race, religion, culture and age.

Intimacy relates to being close to someone physically as well as emotionally. Intimacy is expressed in varied manners such as talking, caressing, sharing thoughts and showering physical affection.

The perception of sexuality and intimacy is greatly altered when you suffer from cancer. It distorts your own perception of your sexuality and body image leading to diminished self- confidence and resentment towards relationships.

Cancer and Emotions

When first diagnosed with cancer, your first interest is to get rid of the cancer; during this time intimacy or sexuality is not your top priority. However, as you begin your diagnosis, treatment and recovery, it drains you of your energy as well as self-confidence. The challenges of coping with cancer are overwhelming, causing severe psychological effects. Self- confidence is diminished as you progress with the treatment course, bringing about many physical changes.

Negative emotions cause patients to alter their view about sexuality and intimacy. According to research, some of the most common negative emotions felt include:

· Anxiety: Sex is an important aspect of any relationship, but indulging in sex can cause anxiety to cancer survivors. Such patients are self conscious of their body image and are unable to perform the act.

· Anger: Resentment towards everything is commonly felt by patients. This also affects their sexual relationships.

· Guilt and Shame: Many people tend to associate previous sexual encounters with cancer occurrence. Patients also feel a sense of shame for the changes in their sexuality. This further discourages them from having any relations.

· Fear: cancer patients tend to fear rejection from their partner due to their condition.

· Self-consciousness: Bodily changes such as balding or having no breasts due to mastectomy severely diminishes self-confidence.

Physical Changes

Many physical changes act as a catalyst leading to emotional trauma in patients. Some of the physical changes that are responsible for such an emotional shift include:

  • · Hair loss/balding
  • · Loss in body weight
  • · Scars due to surgery
  • · Removal of a body part (eg: mastectomy)

Emotional Support

When a person is suffering from cancer, he not only requires care but also needs emotional and mental support. It is important to understand the emotional trauma felt by the patient and make sure that he is made comfortable on every level. For a partner, it may be overwhelming too, but only with their support can a patient overcome the negative emotions. It is important to make the patient feel loved on all levels.

Author Bio: Michelle Tyler is a medical writer who writes well-researched, in-depth cancer articles which provide relevant information to help patients combat the deadly disease. Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) has been a pioneer in providing best cancer treatment as well as follow up to patients suffering from various cancer types. With branches in Newnan, Philadelphia, Chicago, Tulsa etc., CTCA aims at providing the best treatment options to cancer patients.