Understanding Radiation Therapy

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Radiation therapy to the pelvis

If you get radiation therapy to any part of the pelvis, you might have one or more of the digestive problems already described. You may have some irritation of your bladder, too, which can be uncomfortable and make you have to pass urine often. You may also have changes in your fertility (ability to have children) and your sex life.

Fertility

Women: Do not try to become pregnant during radiation therapy—radiation can harm the growing baby. Talk to you doctor about birth control options and how radiation may affect your fertility. If you are or might be pregnant, let your doctor know before starting treatment.

Depending on the radiation dose, women having radiation therapy in the pelvic area may stop having their menstrual periods and have other symptoms of menopause. Treatment also can cause vaginal itching, burning, and dryness. Report these symptoms to your doctor so you can learn about ways to relieve these side effects.

Men: Radiation therapy to an area that includes the testes can reduce both the number of sperm and their ability to function. But this does not mean that pregnancy can’t happen. If you want to father a child and are concerned about reduced fertility, talk to your doctor before starting treatment. One option may be to bank your sperm ahead of time.

Other than studies that looked at survivors of atomic bomb blasts, there is little information about radiation’s effect on the children conceived by men during or after getting radiation therapy. Because of the uncertain risk, doctors often advise men to avoid getting a woman pregnant during and for some weeks after treatment, especially if there is radiation to or near the genital area.

Sex

With some types of radiation therapy involving the pelvis and/or sex organs, men and women may notice changes in their ability to enjoy sex or a decrease in their level of desire.

Women: During treatment to the pelvis, some women are told not to have sex. And some women may find it painful. You most likely will be able to resume having sex within a few weeks after treatment ends, but check with your doctor first. Some types of treatment may have long-term effects, such as scar tissue that could affect the ability of the vagina to stretch during sex. Again, your doctor may be able to offer ways to help if this happens to you. You can get a lot more information in our booklet called Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer.

Men: Radiation may affect the nerves that make a man able to have an erection. If you are having seed implant radiation therapy, check with your doctor about safety precautions during sex. If erection problems do occur, they are usually gradual, over the course of many months or years. Talk with your doctor about treatment options if this is a concern for you. You can get a lot more information from our booklet called Sexuality for the Man With Cancer.


Last Medical Review: 01/24/2013
Last Revised: 01/24/2013