Cancer and sex: Adjusting to changes that can come with this disease
January 04, 2017
A cancer diagnosis can change many things in our lives, including how we feel about sex and intimacy. Radiation treatment, chemotherapy and some cancer surgeries can affect our sexuality. But good communications, support, post-cancer remedies and changes in our personal relationships can help us adjust and still enjoy this part of life.
Some of the main sexual problems that arise during and after cancer treatment are:
Loss of interest: Both men and women often lose interest in sex during treatment. This may be due to many reasons, including hormone changes, self-consciousness, lower self-esteem, stress, depression, fatigue and nausea.
Pain: A change in hormone levels during treatment can cause pain during sex. Pelvic surgery, radiation therapy and menopause also can lead to problems with pain.
Premature menopause: Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation all can lead to premature menopause, which can cause pain during sex and a lower sex drive.
Asking questions and getting answers
After a cancer diagnosis, communication is key to understanding potential changes in your sex life and how you respond to them. These questions can help you start to frame your approach as you move forward:
- How did you define sexuality and intimacy before the cancer?
- Have those values and desires changed?
- How do you communicate your needs when your physical health has changed?
- Have you discussed these concerns with your doctor or nurse?
Learn as much as you can about how your cancer treatment could affect your sexuality. This will help you plan how to handle any issues as they arise.
Communicating with your partner
Talk with your health-care team about your concerns and share what you learn with your partner. Talking with your partner about your diagnosis and potential changes in your sex life is crucial for your comfort, and to relieve stress and worry that both of you might be feeling. If talking to your partner seems especially difficult, a support group might help you learn from others who have found effective ways to break down barriers.
Cancer can challenge relationships and require new roles for you and your partner. Whether the issues are lack of libido or painful intercourse, there frequently are simple and effective treatments or steps you can take to ease these problems.
We can help
If you are struggling with these issues, the Cancer Survivorship Clinic at Swedish Cancer Institute can help. Call 206-860-6488 for an appointment to discuss your concerns and get the support you need. Or learn about support groups on our Patient Support Resources page.
Dr. John D. Wynn, M.D., of the Swedish Cancer Institute writes about cancer and changing sexual relations here.