During cancer treatment, you probably have many questions about the impact of the disease and treatment on your lifestyle. One of the last things you might think to ask about is how your treatment — and the resulting side effects — could affect your sexuality. You might not feel comfortable discussing the topic of sex, or it may be the furthest thing from your mind right as you grapple with all the other elements of your treatment. But you should know that even if you are not currently sexually active, it’s very normal to have questions and concerns about sex and fertility during and after cancer treatment.
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, your health care team is here to talk with you about anything that affects your health and well-being — including sex. Below are some general guidelines, but as with any questions you have during treatment, be sure to talk with your oncologist and other providers about your specific circumstances.
Issues that could affect intimacy during and after cancer treatment
Patients receiving radiation or chemotherapy for cancer may experience side effects that impact sexuality and intimacy. Some of those side effects can linger after treatment is over. They include:
- Numbness at the surgical site
- Neuropathy (nerve pain) and/or nausea caused by chemotherapy
- Vaginal dryness which may be alleviated by lubricants
- Menopause induced by medications or surgery to remove the ovaries and/or uterus
- Permanently and/or temporarily altered body image
- Anxiety or depression from a fear of recurrence
When is it OK to have sex during cancer treatment
Physicians suggest that you wait at least 48 to 72 hours after receiving chemotherapy to have sex (vaginal, oral and anal). This is the average amount of time it takes the chemo to leave the system. Always talk with your medical team about your particular chemotherapy and their recommendations regarding intercourse.
There are different types of radiation, so talk with your radiation oncologist about the type of radiation you are receiving and the length of time you need to wait before having sex.
If surgery is part of your treatment plan, talk with your surgeon about when it will be safe to have sex again, so you can avoid causing pain or slow healing at the surgery site.
Fertility and pregnancy during cancer treatment
Becoming pregnant or impregnating someone while you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation has serious risks. To be safe, talk with your oncologist about how long you should wait after treatment to try to become pregnant or try to impregnate your partner. In the meantime, you and your partner should use a reliable form of birth control to lower the risk of pregnancy during treatment.
Even if your physicians and healthcare team have told you your treatment might affect your chances of having any more children, remember everyone responds differently to treatment. You should always assume you could become pregnant or cause a pregnancy if you are having sex. If you are planning on having children after treatment, talk with your oncologist.
You and your partner should also use a form of barrier protection to lower the risk of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Latex condoms with nonoxyl-9 spermicide will not be damaged by chemo or radiation. When your immune system is weak, an STD is even more dangerous to your health.