Almost three quarters of Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer will experience a downturn in their sex lives, according to the Bupa Health Foundation's -Health and Wellbeing after Breast Cancer Study'.
The most widespread sexual function problems included a loss in sexual desire, decreased activity and body image problems.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women, with one in nine expected to be afflicted by the disease during their lifetime.
Importantly, survival prospects continue to improve due to better detection and enhanced treatments, with 87% of women surviving five years or more – a 15% improvement since the 1980s.
Despite the growing number of women that successfully live with or overcome breast cancer, only limited research has been completed into the long-term side effects of their treatment.
With the support of Bupa Health Foundation, Professors Susan Davis and Robin Bell of the Women's Health Program, Monash University, are leading Australia's first longitudinal study into the challenges faced by 1,684 breast cancer survivors and their quality of life. The study addresses a gap in evidence and represents a unique opportunity to document the long-term health outcomes experienced by Australian breast cancer survivors.
The research found that 83% of women involved in the study described their sex life as 'good" prior to learning they had breast cancer. But within two years of being diagnosed, 70% were experiencing sexual function problems.
'The majority of women diagnosed have a hormone sensitive breast cancer and receive treatment to starve the cancer of oestrogen," Davis said.
'And while this kind of therapy is instrumental in helping fight the cancer, it's important that women understand sexual function problems are often one of this treatment's side effects.
'Despite the reluctance of many women to discuss these personal issues, our study reinforces the importance of seeking help and advice from their health practitioner."
Dr Christine Bennett, Chair of the Bupa Health Foundation Steering Committee and Bupa Australia's Chief Medical Officer, said she hoped the research would provide insight to Australian breast cancer patients, as well as their partners and families.
'The important message from this study for women who are breast cancer survivors is they should be aware sexual health problems are common," she said.
'We encourage these women to discuss this with their doctor and partner to consider treatment options that may be right for them.
'The Bupa Health Foundation is pleased to continue its support of the -Health and Wellbeing after Breast Cancer Study', which will provide evidence to improve this important area of women's health and wellbeing."
Other key findings for women experiencing sexual function problems include: