Qualitative Study of Breast Cancer Survivors at Reproductive Age Detail Unfulfilled Sexual Life

“Sexuality and sexual well-being among [breast cancer] survivors of reproductive age have been examined by some qualitative studies. Therefore, this qualitative descriptive study aimed to explore the experiences of [breast cancer] survivors of reproductive age regarding their sexual life and related problems in an urban area of ​​Iran,” the study authors wrote.

The study’s researchers enrolled 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 age of the spouse was a median of 49.85 years (SD, 4.48). The age of these patients suggests that both the men and the women were at an age when 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 primary education degree (42.9%), were city residents (66.7%) and housekeepers (71.4%). These women also had between 1 and 2 children (66.8%) and indicated that their economic status was relatively adequate (61.9%).

In the past 1 to 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 radiotherapy and 90.5% had a mastectomy.

All participants reported having an ‘unfulfilled sexual life’ as the central theme of their experience. This was one of the key areas of quality of life in these survivors, and they were irritated by changes caused by breast cancer and unmet supportive needs from their spouse and the health care system. In addition, sub-themes have been used to represent what contributes to an unfulfilled sex life.

A sub-theme of unwanted sexual functioning was reported by most because of the negative impact of breast cancer treatment on women’s sexual desire and arousal. Issues such as decreased sexual desire, vaginal dryness and dyspareunia were related to this effect. In addition, participants who underwent mastectomy reported a negative sexual impact. Most participants experienced a decline in sexual relationships as a result of the physical and psychological effects of breast cancer.

Another possible barrier to women’s unfulfilled sexual lives was their religious beliefs, with some women being encouraged to obey their husbands and participate in a sexual relationship even when they felt unwell. In addition, some women reported feeling ashamed when expressing their sexual needs to their husbands.

In addition, some breast cancer survivors felt that they had received insufficient information from health care providers about sexual problems and sexual complications. Some reported not having access to information about breast cancer complications, its recurrence risk, and its symptoms. These women also did not feel that their support needs were being met after their diagnosis and during treatment, which in turn harmed their sexual behavior.

Some participants also reported experiencing an emotional crisis caused by changes in their mastectomy and the cessation of their periods. These changes were described by some as a loss of their femininity and related to a feeling that their husbands were negatively affected by their repressed sexual needs.

“Our findings emphasized the importance of sexual and marital life among the” [breast cancer] survivors and reported what changes happened to their sexual health after BC treatments,” researchers concluded.


Maleki M, Mardani A, Ghafourifard M, Vaismoradi M. Qualitative exploration of sexual life in reproductive age breast cancer survivors. BMC Women’s Health. 2021;21(1):56. doi:10.1186/s12905-021-01212-9

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