How will cancer and cancer treatment affect your sexual health?
Talking about sex can be a sensitive topic. It is, however, important to discuss how cancer and cancer treatment can affect sexuality and how to deal with any issues that may arise. It may be helpful to write down your questions before seeing your doctor. Here are a few questions to get you started.
- Will I be able to have children after this cancer treatment?
- Are there steps I can take to maintain my fertility?
- Is it safe to have sex while I am on chemotherapy? What precautions should we take?
- Can chemotherapy be transmitted through bodily fluids during sex?
- Is it possible to get pregnant during this treatment? Would there be increased risks or negative effects on the baby?
- Should I stop or continue my birth control?
- Which method to prevent pregnancy is right for me?
- Will this treatment have any effects on sexual function?
- What can I do to treat vaginal dryness?
- Can something be done about the low interest in sex?
- Do any of my medications have an impact on my libido?
- Can I get help with my body image?
- Sex became painful. Is there anything that can help?
- What is pelvic floor physiotherapy and would it help me?
- Can I see a specialist to help me with my sexual health?
More cancer patients in Louisville and southern Indiana are choosing Norton Cancer Institute, where they find sophisticated expertise, including access to innovative clinical trials and a commitment to treating the person in their own right. together – not just cancer.
Cancer and cancer treatments can lead to changes in sexual health, many of which are treatable.
Cancer treatment and early menopause
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone blocking therapy can trigger menopause in cancer patients. It can cause infertility and also cause symptoms that can affect sexual health.
Many symptoms of menopause can affect sexual health, such as:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain with sex – this should be evaluated by a healthcare professional
- Decreased libido or desire
- Joint pain
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Misty thought
- Urinary tract infections
Cancer and libido
Reduced libido is a very common concern after cancer treatment. Contributing factors can include biological, psychological, social and cultural causes.
- If sex is painful, the desire is likely to decrease. The first step is to tackle the cause of painful intercourse.
- Chronic non-pelvic pain can increase stress, contribute to depression, and decrease sex drive.
- Cancer surgery can alter gender identity and body image.
- Cancer survivors who have experienced sexual trauma in the past may have increased difficulties.
- Depression, anxiety, side effects from medications, and chronic fatigue from cancer treatments can all reduce the desire to have sex.
- Your partner may have their own sexual health issues.
Improve your libido
- Mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and connect you to the present.
- Regular exercise can help improve libido.
- Spending 15-20 minutes in foreplay can help improve interest in sex.
- Getting to know your body and tastes, exploring your own body, and using sex toys can help with libido.
- Emotional connection with your partner can improve desire and interest in sex. Plan ahead for a time for both of you and put stressful topics out of reach for that time.
- Pick a time of privacy when you have more energy and plan ahead.
- Share your feelings and listen to your partner.
Treatments for low desire include:
- Treatment of underlying physical problems
- Psychosocial counseling
- Sex therapy
Two drugs, flibanserin and bremelanotide, are approved to improve sexual desire in women, although they have not been studied in cancer patients.
Painful sex after cancer treatment is a common problem and can be treated. There are many reasons why a person may have sexual pain after cancer treatment.
- Vaginal dryness. Using moisturizers and vaginal lubricants can relieve vaginal dryness. In some cases, your healthcare professional may recommend topical estrogen.
- Pelvic pain syndrome. Pain can occur on the outside of the vagina or on the inside with penetration. The pelvic floor muscles can be overactive, which can cause sexual pain and other problems. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can work with patients to relieve pelvic floor pain.
- Vaginal stenosis. Narrowing and shortening of the vagina can occur after some types of cancer treatment. Using progressive vaginal dilators and working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist can treat this condition.
- Vaginismus. An involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles that makes vaginal penetration difficult. This can interfere not only with sexual activity, but also with medical examinations or the use of a tampon. Pelvic floor physiotherapy or working with a sex therapist can help improve this problem.
Body image involves your perception, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions related to your body. It’s more than just a physical appearance. Cancer and cancer treatment can cause physical changes such as loss of body part, hair loss, weight changes, and scarring that affects body image. Many of these changes can be related to the way we view sexuality.
Body image problems are common after cancer treatment and can occur at different times.
Ways to fix body image issues:
- Talk about body image issues with your family and friends. Ask them to listen, not to give you advice.
- Wigs, scarves, and hats can help you deal with hair loss. A wig may be prescribed by your doctor and may be covered by insurance. The Norton Cancer Institute resource centers also have resources for wigs.
- Breast prostheses and specialized bras may be prescribed by your doctor after breast surgery and may be covered by insurance.
- Counseling can be very helpful in restoring a positive body image.
If vaginal moisturizers and lubricants don’t work for you, or if you have more severe vaginal dryness or pain, talk to your healthcare professional. Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants serve different purposes.
Moisturizers help treat dryness and improve vaginal tissue. They should be used regularly – at least three times a week at bedtime. Moisturizers are often oil based.
Lubricants work to reduce friction or pain caused by rubbing against dry, thin vaginal tissue. Lubricants can be oil-based, water-based, or silicone-based.
- Moisturizers and lubricants do not protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
- Both water-based and silicone-based lubricants can be used with condoms.
- Oil-based lubricants can make condoms less effective. Do not use petroleum jelly or baby oil as a lubricant.
- Oil and silicone based lubricants can stain the leaves. If you’re concerned about stains, place a towel over the sheets.
- Silicone-based lubricants can damage silicone sex toys.
- Lubricants that are flavored, tingle / warm, or contain glycerin may cause vaginal irritation.