- After Diagnosis: A Guidefor Patients and Families
- What is cancer?
- Who gets cancer?
- Did I cause my cancer?
- Can cancer be inherited?
- Why me?
- Am I going to die?
- How do I cope?
- How do I talk to people about my diagnosis?
- Making treatment decisions
- How is treatment planned?
- What should I ask my doctor?
- Will I have pain?
- Will I be able to work during treatment?
- Will I be able to exercise during treatment?
- How will cancer affect my sex life?
- How will I pay for all this?
- What other resources do I have?
- To learn more
How will cancer affect my sex life?
Sexual feelings and attitudes vary greatly among people under any circumstances. This is also true during illness. Some people have little or no change in their sexual desire and energy level because of cancer. Others find that their interest declines because of the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and treatment. Stress may include concerns about changes in how you look; worry about health, family, or money; or the result of treatment side effects, including fatigue and hormone changes.
Know that even though pregnancy may be possible during cancer treatment, it is not wise because some treatments could cause birth defects. Many doctors tell men and women to use birth control throughout their treatment.
If your sexual desire and energy levels change during treatment, keep in mind that this is normal and can happen for many reasons. Some common reasons are stress, fatigue, and other treatment side effects. Body image issues may also play a part.
If you have had surgery for a cancer in the pelvic or stomach areas, it may make sex difficult or painful for a time. Some women have vaginal dryness, and some men have problems with erections (erectile dysfunction) as a side effect of some treatments. If possible, discuss these concerns with your cancer care team and your partner.
If you were comfortable with and enjoyed a healthy sex life before starting treatment, chances are you will still find pleasure in physical intimacy during your treatment. You may find that intimacy takes on a new meaning and you relate differently. Hugging, touching, holding, and cuddling may become more important, while sex may become less important.
Good communication is the key to staying sexually active or resuming your sex life with your partner. Your partner’s concerns or fears are normal, and they can have an impact on your sex life. Some partners may worry that physical closeness will hurt the person who has cancer. Others may fear that they might “catch” the cancer or be affected by the radiation or chemo. Catching cancer is not possible, but talking about issues like these can clear up many problems. It will also help you find out what different things you can do to make sexual contact something you can both enjoy.
A healthy sex life can be hard to maintain when there are so many physical and emotional factors involved. Get as much information from your doctor and other resources as you can so that you understand what you can and can’t do before, during, and after treatment. For more information, you may order the free booklets Sexuality for the Man With Cancer and Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer by calling your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
After chemo or radiation treatment, women may find that their periods become irregular or stop. This does not mean that they cannot get pregnant, so birth control is still needed during treatment. In men, the treatments may reduce or damage sperm cells. But in many cases, men are again fertile after treatment is done.
Whether or not you plan to have children, it’s normal to worry about how treatment will affect your fertility. Talk to your doctor before treatment starts about any questions or concerns you have about fertility and cancer treatment. This will help you make the treatment decisions that are best for you.
Last Medical Review: 03/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/25/2013