Summary of how some common cancer treatments can affect female sexuality and fertility

 

Chemotherapy

  • Sometimes causes  low sexual desire
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture
  • Rarely causes (only if linked to menopause) reduced vaginal size
  • Often causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Often causes infertility

Pelvic radiation therapy

  • Often causes low sexual desire, if sex is linked to pain
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture
  • Often causes reduced vaginal size
  • Often causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Often causes infertility

Radical hysterectomy

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture*
  • Often causes reduced vaginal size
  • Rarely causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Always causes infertility

Radical cystectomy

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture*
  • Always causes reduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Sometimes causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Always causes infertility

Abdominoperineal (AP) resection

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture*
  • Sometimes causes reduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Sometimes causes infertility*

Total pelvic exenteration with vaginal reconstruction

  • Sometimes causes low sexual desire
  • Always causes less vaginal moisture
  • Sometimes causes reduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Sometimes causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Always causes infertility

Radical wide local excision vulvectomy (or partial vulvectomy)

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Never causes less vaginal moisture
  • Sometimes causes reduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Sometimes causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Never causes infertility

Conization of the cervix

  • Never causes low sexual desire
  • Never causes less vaginal moisture
  • Never causes reduced vaginal size
  • Rarely causes painful intercourse, only if scar tissue forms
  • Never causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Rarely causes infertility

Oophorectomy (removal of one tube and ovary)  

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Never causes less vaginal moisture*
  • Never causes reduced vaginal size*
  • Never causes painful intercourse, unless linked to menopause
  • Never causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Rarely causes infertility

Oophorectomy (removal of both tubes and ovaries)  

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Often causes  less vaginal moisture*
  • Sometimes causes reduced vaginal size*
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse*
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Always causes infertility

Mastectomy or radiation to the breast 

  • Rarely causes low sexual desire
  • Never causes less vaginal moisture
  • Never causes reduced vaginal size
  • Never causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Never causes infertility

Tamoxifen therapy for breast or uterine cancer  

  • Sometimes causes low sexual desire
  • Often causes less vaginal moisture
  • Sometimes causes reduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Rarely causes trouble reaching orgasm
  • Need to use birth control

Aromatase inhibitor therapy for breast cancer   

  • Sometimes causes low sexual desire
  • Sometime causes less vaginal moisture
  • Sometimes causesreduced vaginal size
  • Sometimes causes painful intercourse
  • Sometimes causes trouble reaching orgasm, if sex if painful
  • Need to use birth control
 
 
*Vaginal dryness and size changes should not occur if you have one working ovary left or if hormone replacement therapy is given.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 29, 2013 Last Revised: August 29, 2013

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