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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Overlaps Between Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

By Kiara Ford

For help, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline:

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Chat online:

Text "START" to 88788

Breast cancer and domestic violence are, unfortunately, connected in many ways, including the fact that they share October as their respective awareness months. They are both important, complex topics that need to be addressed in their own unique ways; however, it is also worth examining their overlaps. As difficult as it is to acknowledge, there is an undeniable link between a breast cancer diagnosis and domestic violence, and although there is only one month dedicated to these subjects, these are conversations which can and should be happening year-round.

Keep reading to learn more about the intersection of disability and domestic violence, how cancer can change a relationship, and the unique challenges people with cancer face when experiencing intimate partner violence.

Breast cancer and domestic violence are similar in the fact that although they can happen to anyone, they are most commonly experienced by women. One in three women have experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner, and this rate increases in the case of people with disabilities. Disabled women have a 40% higher chance of experiencing intimate partner violence than non-disabled women, and the instances of violence are typically more frequent and severe. Breast cancer is included as a disability by the ADA, and there is no denying that the circumstances of a breast cancer diagnosis can place someone in a more vulnerable position for domestic abuse. 

The stress of a cancer diagnosis changes relationships. Experts agree that cancer exacerbates patterns of behavior, both positive and negative, and can sometimes intensify the anger of partners who previously demonstrated aggressive behavior. Combined with the fact that breast cancer and its treatment can affect sexual function, this change can result in increased rates of sexual violence within relationships. Studies and anecdotal experience alike have found post-mastectomy sexual violence to be a “present phenomenon.”  

It is never simple or easy to leave a domestic abuse situation, and breast cancer can create even more barriers to doing so. The financial burden of cancer treatment can tie the patient to their abuser economically, or they may be forced to rely on their partner’s daily support due to the physical limitations created by cancer. The inherent power differential created by a breast cancer diagnosis creates a set of circumstances which enables abusers. 

Breast cancer and domestic violence can both carry a great deal of shame. Many people view them as private issues, making them difficult to discuss outside of the home. Nevertheless, it is vital that these discussions do take place in order to destigmatize these experiences and create pathways forward. It is crucial to understand more not just about breast cancer and domestic violence individually, but also their unique intersections and the people affected by them such as increased barriers to leaving, increased rates of sexual violence, and increased rates of frequency and severity of physical violence.

For help, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline:

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Chat online:

Text "START" to 88788

Learn More:

SBC Webinar Recording: Domestic Violence & Cancer

About the Author:

Kiara Ford is a recent graduate of Emerson College, where she majored in communication studies and minored in health and society. She is currently a community health worker trainee with the non-profit organization Asian Women for Health. She is passionate about patient advocacy and health equity, and hopes to raise awareness and increase understanding of patients’ rights through her work.

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