How will cancer and cancer treatment affect your sexual health?
Talking about sex can be a touchy topic. However, it is important to discuss how cancer and cancer treatment can affect sexuality and how to treat potential problems. It may help to write down your questions before seeing your doctor. Here are some 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 Undergoing Chemotherapy? What Precautions Should We Take? Can chemo pass through body fluid during sex? Is it possible to get pregnant during this treatment? Are there any increased risks or negative effects on the baby? Should I stop or continue my birth control? Which pregnancy prevention method is right for me? Does this treatment have effects on sexual function? What can i do to treat vaginal dryness? Can anything be done about a low interest in sex? Will any of my medications affect my sex drive? Can I have help with my body image? Sex has become painful. Is there anything that can help? What is pelvic floor physiotherapy and would it be helpful for me? Can I see a specialist to help me with my sexual health?
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Cancer and cancer treatments can bring about changes in sexual health, many of which can be treated.
Cancer treatment and early menopause
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone-blocking treatments can cause menopause in cancer patients. This can cause infertility and also cause symptoms that can affect sexual health.
Many menopausal symptoms can affect sexual health, such as:
Hot flushes Night sweats Fatigue Dry vagina Pain with sex – this should be assessed by a medical professional Decreased sex drive or desire Joint pain Mood swings Insomnia Anxiety or depression Foggy thinking Urinary tract infections Infertility
Cancer and sex drive
Reduced sex drive is a common concern after cancer treatment. Contributing factors can be biological, psychological, social and cultural causes.
If sex is painful, the desire will likely diminish. The first step is to deal with the cause of painful sex. Chronic non-pelvic pain can increase stress, contribute to depression, and decrease libido. Cancer surgery can change sexual identity and body image. Cancer survivors who have experienced sexual trauma in the past may have faced greater challenges. Depression, anxiety, drug side effects, and chronic fatigue from cancer treatments can all reduce sex drive. Your partner may have sexual health problems of their own.
Improve your sex drive
Mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and connect you to the present. Regular exercise can help improve libido. Spending 15 to 20 minutes in foreplay can increase interest in sex. Getting to know your body and what you like, exploring your own body, and using sex toys can help the libido. Connecting emotionally with your partner can improve desire and interest in sex. Plan ahead for a time for the two of you and suggest stressful topics for that time outside of the limit. Pick a moment for intimacy when you have more energy and plan ahead. Share your feelings and listen to your partner.
Treatments for low craving include:
Treatment of underlying physical problems Psychosocial counseling Sex therapy
Two drugs, flibanserin and bremelanotide, have been approved to improve sexual desire in women, although they have not been studied in cancer patients.
Painful sexual intercourse
Painful intercourse after cancer treatment is a common problem and can be treated. There are several reasons why a person may be in pain with sex after cancer treatment.
Vaginal dryness. Using vaginal moisturisers and lubricants can relieve vaginal dryness. In some cases, your cancer care provider may recommend topical estrogen.
Pelvic pain syndrome. Pain can occur on the outside of the vagina or on the inside upon penetration. The muscles of the pelvic floor can be overactive and this can cause pain with sex and other problems. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can work with patients to relieve pelvic floor pain.
Vaginal stenosis. Shrinking and shortening of the vagina can result from some types of cancer treatment. Using progressive vaginal dilators and working with a pelvic floor physical therapist can treat this condition.
Vaginismus. An involuntary contraction of vaginal muscles that makes vaginal penetration difficult. This can interfere with not only sexual activity, but also medical examinations or the use of a tampon. Pelvic floor physical therapy or working with a sex therapist can help improve this problem.
Body image includes your perception, thoughts, behaviors and emotions regarding your body. It’s more than just looks. Cancer and cancer treatment can cause physical changes such as loss of a body part, hair loss, weight changes and scarring that affect body image. Many of these changes can be related to how someone views sexuality.
Body image concerns are common after cancer treatment and can occur at different times.
Ways to address body image concerns:
Talk about body image concerns with family and friends. Ask them to listen, not advise you. Wigs, scarves and hats can help you deal with hair loss. A wig may be prescribed by your medical provider and may be covered by insurance. Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers also have resources for wigs. Breast forms and specialty bras can be prescribed by your healthcare provider after breast surgery and may be covered by insurance. Counseling can be very helpful in restoring a positive body image.
If vaginal moisturisers and lubricants don’t work for you, or if you have more severe vaginal dryness or pain, talk to your cancer care provider. Vaginal moisturisers 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 and thin vaginal tissue. Lubricants can be oil-based, water-based, or silicone-based.
Moisturizers and lubricants do not protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Water 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 sheets. If you are concerned about stains, put a towel over the sheets. Silicone-based lubricants can damage silicone sex toys. Lubricants that are flavored, tingle / warm, or contain glycerine can cause vaginal irritation.