Sex and Women with Cancer: Overview

+ -Text Size


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 chemo or radiation treatment hurt your partner?

A few chemo drugs can come out in small amounts in vaginal fluids. You may want to tell your partner to use condoms while you are getting chemo and for about 2 weeks afterward. Talk to your doctor about this.

Having sex will not expose your partner to radiation unless you have an implant that gives off radiation. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any questions or concerns about keeping your partner safe.

Do not get pregnant during treatment. Ask your doctor what kind of birth control is best for you and how long you will need to use it after treatment.

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 bleed 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’re 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 an infection 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 have urinary tract infections often, your doctor may give you antibiotics to take after sex to help prevent infection.
  • 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 health care team. Write them down now so you won’t forget to ask them at your next visit.

Sometimes your doctor might say things you don’t understand. Speak up – let the doctor know if something doesn’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 these questions.

Last Medical Review: 09/22/2014
Last Revised: 09/22/2014