Sexuality Concerns and Cancer

Sexuality and intimacy are important aspects of health for all people, including thoseSexuality Concerns diagnosed with cancer. For those patients currently in treatment or just recovering from surgery, there are some important considerations to be aware of before you engage in any sexual activity.

For Women:

  • When recovering from surgery, sex can cause bleeding or stress any incisions. Recovery times are different for each surgery, so check with your health care team about when is a safe time to resume sexual activity.
  • Cancer treatment often causes a weakened immune system. This makes it easier to catch all kinds of infections. Check with your health care team about the potential threat the sex poses to your immune system and ways to protect yourself.
  • Chemotherapy may thin the walls of the vagina, which can cause a small amount of bleeding. Using an unscented, uncolored, water-based lubricant can help.
  • Surgery and radiation to the vagina can cause vaginal dryness, which can cause pain and bleeding. Again, unscented, uncolored, water-based lubricant and using dilators can help.
  • Some chemotherapy can be present in some amounts of vaginal fluid. Protect your partner by using a condom throughout treatment and up to two weeks after treatment.

For Men:

  • Cancer treatment often causes a weakened immune system. This makes it easier to catch all kinds of infections. Check with your health care team about the potential threat the sex poses to your immune system and ways to protect yourself.
  • Radiation to the genital area can cause pain during ejaculation. This is not usually permanent.
  • Radiation can also cause skin irritation and a reduction in the amount of semen present in ejaculate.
  • For men being treated for prostate cancer, there may be small amount of blood in semen. This is not harmful, but notify your doctor.
  • Men treated for testicular cancer may have no semen at orgasm (dry ejaculation). This will not affect your pleasure or your partner’s.
  • Men who have been treated for testicular, prostate, bladder, colorectal, and even head and neck cancers often report having trouble getting erections after treatment. Speak to your health care team about hormone replacement (though men with some cancers can’t get have testosterone replacement).

The greatest thing you can do for you and your partner is to keep an open line of communication. Talk to your partner about how you are physically feeling, and about your emotional concerns.  Don’t push yourself.

For more information about sexuality during cancer check out: 

  1. Triage Cancer Webinar: You and Your Body: Cancer, Intimacy and Sexuality
  2. American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/how-cancer-affects-sexuality.html