Cancer treatment, including chemotherapy (chemo), may cause side effects that affect your sexuality and your reproductive ability. It is common for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer to ask their doctor and care team about how chemo will affect their sex lives. You may worry about your appearance during or after chemo, have fears about your partner's acceptance of your body's changes, or you may lose interest in sex while you focus on your treatment.
These concerns are normal and probably temporary. It may help to keep an open dialogue with your partner to discuss worries, fears, and anxieties.
Possible Chemo-Related Side Effects
Other sexual and reproductive chemo side effects can be more serious. Changes in your reproductive ability or sexuality due to cancer or cancer treatment may include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Early menopause and related symptoms
- Vaginal dryness
- Reduced sexual desire
- Erectile dysfunction
- Effects on the sperm and parts of the body that make sperm
- Reduced sexual desire
Some sexual side effects resolve after chemo is completed. Others may last after your treatment is complete.
Managing Sexual Problems
Tell your doctor if you are worried about erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence. There are medications available that may help. For women, the symptoms of early menopause may interfere with your sex life. Some symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness, can be managed with medications. Make sure to tell your doctor and care team about symptoms that you are concerned about. They will help you receive proper help and support.
Dealing with these chemo side effects can be hard. Talk to your doctor and care team if you have questions or concerns about how chemo will affect your sexuality. Your doctor and care team have a lot of experience talking with patients about this sensitive topic. And, even more importantly, share your thoughts, feelings, and fears with your partner. It will help to keep you close—with or without sex.
Managing Reproductive Issues
If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor about how chemo may affect your reproductive choices. Some chemo regimens may make it difficult or impossible for you to have children after chemo.
If you think you may want to have children after treatment, and you know that your chemo regimen may cause infertility or sterility, you may wish to bank your eggs or sperm. Eggs and sperm can also be fertilized in a lab and the embryo frozen for use after chemo is complete. However, you must do this before you start treatment.
Your doctor may advise you to wait 6 months or more to become pregnant after your last chemo treatment. If you become pregnant before, during, or soon after cancer treatment, tell your doctor immediately. If you are a male and your partner becomes pregnant, tell your doctor. Some cancer medications can have effects on the unborn child.
Ask Your Doctor:
- What impact might chemo have on my sex drive?
- Will chemo prevent me from having children?
- Should I bank my eggs/my sperm before I begin chemo?
- Will chemo start menopause?
- What can be done to treat erectile dysfunction?
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The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
risk of infection
Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.
Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.