Sex and Men With Cancer: Overview

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Frequently asked questions about sex and cancer

Can sex cause cancer?

Many patients and their partners worry that cancer can be passed on to another person during sex. It can’t be. And for most cancers, there’s no link between a person’s sex life and cancer risk or the risk of having cancer come back after treatment

There are some viruses passed from one person to another through sex that can cause some kinds of cancer. Still, these cancers are not caused by sex itself. They’re caused by viruses that can be picked up during sex with someone who has the virus. If you’re having sex with a new partner, you can protect yourself from many of these germs by using condoms for every sex act. Call us to learn more about other topics related to infection and cancer, or read Infections That Can Lead to Cancer on our website.

Can sex during cancer treatment hurt a partner?

Chemo: A few chemo drugs can come out in small amounts in semen. You might want to use condoms while you are getting chemo and for about 2 weeks afterward. Talk to your doctor about this.

Men who are getting chemo also should avoid causing pregnancy during and for some time after treatment because chemo could damage sperm cells. This could lead to birth defects. Ask your doctor about birth control if your partner might get pregnant. Also ask when you can stop using birth control for this reason.

Radiation: For men getting radiation from a machine, having sex will not expose their partners to it. It’s different if you have radiation implants put inside your body (like seed implants for prostate cancer). In this case, those who spend time very close to you might get small amounts in the first few weeks or months. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any questions or concerns about keeping your partner safe.

When should a person with cancer not have sex?

Ask your doctor if sex would cause a problem any time during or after treatment. Here are some things to think about:

  • After surgery, sex might cause bleeding or pull the stitches. Sex may also raise your chance of infection. Ask your surgeon when it’s safe to try sex again.
  • Some types of cancer may cause bleeding in the genital area. If you have bleeding after sex, talk to your doctor about it.
  • During chemo or radiation treatment, your immune system may not work very well and you can get all kinds of infections. Ask your doctor if sex is too risky. Most doctors say that if you are well enough to be out in public, it’s OK to have sex.
  • Urinary tract infections can be a problem, but there are things you can do to help prevent them. Some of the germs that can start infections in the bladder or genital area can be washed away by emptying the bladder just after sex. Some doctors also suggest washing the genital area before and after sex and drinking extra fluids.
  • If you notice any sores, bumps, or warts on your partner’s genitals, or any kind of discharge, find out what’s going on to decide if it’s safe for you to have sex with this person.

Do you have other questions?

You might have many questions that haven’t been discussed here. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask your doctor or other members of your healthcare team. Write them down now so you won’t forget to ask them at your next visit.

Sometimes your doctor might say things that you don’t understand. Speak up – let the doctor know if something didn’t make sense to you. Ask the doctor to try again to tell you what you need to know. If you still have trouble, a nurse or social worker can often help with questions.

Last Medical Review: 08/28/2014
Last Revised: 09/23/2014