Sexual concerns of women diagnosed with breast cancer-related lymphedema

Caleb J. Winch, Kerry A. Sherman*, Louise A. Koelmeyer, Katriona M. Smith, Helen Mackie, John Boyages

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Lymphedema is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment that may negatively impact on a woman’s physical and psychological well-being. This study aimed to understand the impact of breast cancer-related lymphedema on women’s sexual functioning, and to identify key concerns of these women regarding sexual issues. Methods: Purposive sampling recruited 17 women aged 38–67 years with mild to severe lymphedema. Telephone interviews concerning sexual issues were transcribed verbatim and thematic analysis undertaken. Results: Women perceived sexual concerns arising from lymphedema to exacerbate concerns arising from breast cancer. Four interrelated factors determined the extent of lymphedema’s sexual impact: (a) swelling severity and location, (b) needing to wear a compression garment, (c) body image concerns raised by lymphedema and breast cancer treatment, and (d) their sexual partner’s acceptance and supportiveness. In particular, a supportive partner was instrumental in assisting women to overcome sexual issues caused by severe swelling and/or body image concerns. Few women reported being asked about sexual issues by any health professional, and most women indicated that they were unwilling to discuss sexual concerns with health professionals, friends, or family. Conclusions: Lymphedema had the potential to accentuate sexual issues caused by breast cancer, but most women were reluctant to discuss issues with anyone other than their partner. These findings are relevant to health professionals designing breast cancer psychosexual interventions and future research addressing lymphedema-specific sexual concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3481-3491
Number of pages11
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • lymphedema
  • sexual function
  • sexuality
  • oncology nursing
  • body image
  • chronic illness


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