'I lost my sex drive and energy and lost that feeling of being a young attractive woman. I don’t shop for clothes any more and feel I have to hide how I feel to my family but this is wrong. Breast cancer rips normality away from you and that is the hardest part.'
Lynne 47 from Surrey treated five years ago
An overwhelming majority of people who have had breast cancer (88 per cent) say the disease and its treatment has had a negative impact on the way they now feel about their bodies and 68 per cent that it has affected their sexual and intimate relationships a survey published today (Thursday 26 September) has found[i].
The results of a poll of more than 600 people by leading support charity Breast Cancer Care found that 72 per cent said breast cancer had made them feel less confident about their body. Many had experienced lower self esteem and a ‘loss of self’ compared to how they felt before their diagnosis.[ii]
The survey highlights the damaging impact the disease can have on body image sex and intimacy long after treatment has ended. Over half (52 %) said they felt uncomfortable undressing in front of a partner and 64 per cent of single respondents said it had had a big impact on their feelings about forming an intimate relationship in the future.
Claire 49 from Nuneaton said:
'I put on a lot of weight following my breast cancer treatment and my self-confidence was and is still very low. My partner did not like my hair loss and three years later I still hate my body. During treatment there was always someone to talk to or look after you but I was not prepared for the impact on my body. I’ve found this part harder than the treatment and try not to look in the mirror. Only now do I feel this is slowly starting to change.'
Few said they felt able to ask for help or that they had been offered support and information to prepare them for what they may endure afterwards.
The poll also found that:
- 68 per cent said that weight change as a result of treatment made them feel less confident about their body[iii]
- 62 per cent reported not having felt able to talk to their healthcare professional about the impact of breast cancer on their body.
- Only 25 per cent had been offered or told about support (including counselling) and information related to changes to body image intimacy and sex by a healthcare professional
The findings are published as Breast Cancer Care launches a major advertising campaign which through powerful images and stories of different women posing to reveal their mastectomy scars shows that it can be possible to find confidence after breast cancer and that there is support available.
Actress and Breast Cancer Care Ambassador Amanda Mealing is backing the campaign. She said of her own experience:
'Once I was reminded that who I am is so much more than what’s been taken away my confidence began to grow. Breast cancer really does have a big impact on how you feel. That’s why I’m supporting Breast Cancer Care’s powerful new ad campaign. These wonderful images show that everyone has their own way of finding their way through this disease but it is possible to feel good about yourself. Breast Cancer Care’s expert information and support can help you do this however long it’s been since your diagnosis. Please don’t struggle with any concerns you might have alone.'
Samia Al Qadhi Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care said:
'Our latest poll shows the physical and emotional impact of this disease and its treatment cannot be under estimated or trivialised. Breast Cancer can deal a crushing blow to a woman’s self esteem body image and relationships when she may be at her lowest ebb and this can persist for many years afterwards. Nearly 500000[iv] people are living in the UK after a diagnosis. Many of the people who use our services tell us they are shocked by its impact but feel they can’t talk about this aspect of their cancer and simply don’t know where to turn.
'Over half of the 600 people we surveyed told us they weren’t offered enough support and information to deal with these issues but at the same time just as many also said they didn’t feel they could discuss it.
'We want to bring this issue to light and get people talking about it. As our new advertising campaign shows it is possible to find confidence after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. We want every patient to get the right support and information needed whether that’s through Breast Cancer Care relationship experts psychological services or support groups so that no one is left to suffer in silence.
Breast Cancer Care has published a new patient resource ‘Your body intimacy and sex’ Written by nurse experts it covers common patient experiences and concerns and includes a prompt list to help people raise worries with healthcare professionals. The Relationship charity Relate are also supporting the campaign. Relate’s Chief Executive Ruth Sutherland said:
'At Relate we know that the diagnosis and treatment of cancer can have a real effect on self image and this can have an impact on relationships and sex lives. We work with couples families and individuals dealing with cancer helping people to rebuild both their own confidence and the way they interact with those closest to them.'
Nearly 500000 people are living in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer and Breast Cancer Care is urging the public to get behind its campaign. Alongside its striking new poster campaign the support charity is calling on the public to share a behind the scenes film featuring the three women who appear in the adverts through social media and help reach anyone affected by the disease. It will be available to watch and share from Thursday 26th September at breastcancernow.org/body
Notes to editors:
About Breast Cancer Care:
Breast Cancer Care is the only specialist breast cancer support charity working throughout the UK. We were founded in 1973 by Betty Westgate who was herself diagnosed with breast cancer. In the ensuing forty years we have supported millions of women and their families through our face-to-face phone and online services. We also provide training support and networking opportunities to specialist breast cancer nurses and Breast Cancer Care publications are used by the majority of breast cancer units throughout the UK. We campaign for better support and care and promote the importance of early detection involving people with breast cancer in all that we do. Visit breastcancernow.org or call our free helpline on 0808 800 600.
[i] Breast Cancer Care carried out a poll from 23/08 to 09/09 2013 via Facebook and ‘Breast Cancer Voices’ its network of people affected by the disease. 603 people responded. Full survey findings and breakdowns are available on request.
Almost a third of respondents (198) said they been diagnosed more than three years ago.
[ii] 72 per cent of respondents (437) said they feel less confident about their bodies after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Of these many felt it had lowered their self esteem that they had experienced a ‘loss of self’ compared to what they felt before breast cancer or felt a combination of the two. .
[iii] Other findings include:
71 per cent said their loss of a breast or breast tissue or reconstruction made them feel less confident about their body
63 per cent said the loss of physical feeling or sensation following breast cancer treatment made them feel less confident about their bodies.
52 per cent said menopausal symptoms as a result of treatment made them feel less confident.
[iv] Maddams J Brewster D Gavin A Steward J Elliott J Utley M and Moller H British Journal Cancer August 2009. Estimates of the prevalence of cancer in the UK.