Sexuality and Fertility

Cancer and its treatment can affect the sexual well-being of an individual. Your body may undergo rigorous changes during your cancer treatment, which can often have lasting effects on your looks, libido and self-confidence. It is important to understand what you and your body are going through. For more information about coping with changes to your self-image during cancer treatment. Read more

Changes in your appearance, both during and after treatment, can be a source of major concern and anxiety for you. Some physical changes might be short-lived, while others may be permanent. Some common physical changes that cancer patients experience are hair loss, skin changes or scars, loss of limbs, or the loss of fertility. Going through a change like this can have a deep impact on the mental and physical well-being of a cancer survivor.

Having sex during treatment

If you choose to have sex during treatment, you may need to take certain steps to prevent pregnancy and protect yourself and your partner.

Preventing pregnancy

Certain types of cancer treatment can be extremely harmful to an unborn baby. Have an open discussion with your doctor about which methods of contraception you can safely use during treatment.

Protecting your partner

Small amounts of drugs such as chemotherapy can get into body fluids (including vaginal fluids and sperm). To protect your partner during intercourse, it is advisable to use a condom or other barrier method.

Protecting yourself

Your immune system may be suppressed or weakened during your cancer treatment. Practicing safe sex can protect you against sexually-transmitted infections and other diseases.

Coping with changes in your body

You might be fighting feelings of anger, grief, regret, and longing for what you lost. The changes in how you look and feel about your body can also lower your sex drive, making you feel even worse about yourself. You may feel that this is something you have to deal with alone, even if others around you are supportive. It is natural to feel this way. You can start small and take a few steps to help you cope better with the physical changes

Acknowledge what
you are feeling

The fact that you’ve lost life as you know it is a big change, and mourning for your losses can help. It is normal to feel sad, angry, and frustrated, and you have a right to grieve for all that you have lost.

Try to focus on
your accomplishments

The fact that you battled cancer and emerged stronger, wiser and more resilient is a huge victory, which should be celebrated.

Look for alternate ways to enhance your appearance

Small things like a new haircut, hair colour, makeup or a new style of clothing may lift your spirits and help you feel better about yourself and your body.

new skincare routine

If your skin has been affected by radiation, ask your doctor for a new skincare routine.

ask for help and advice

If you wear a wig, a breast form (prosthesis) or a prosthetic limb, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice to find your perfect fit.

Talk to other survivors

for their opinions, experiences and help.

Staying active

can help you cope with the changes your body is experiencing. Regular exercise and sport can reduce your stress and help you relax.

Find a sense of purpose

Immersing yourself in a hobby, a favourite pastime or volunteer work can do wonders for your self-esteem.

Coping with these changes can be hard, and it is a good idea to seek professional help. You can ask your doctor to suggest a counsellor who you can talk with about your feelings and concerns.

Changes in
your sex life

It is common to experience problems with sex after undergoing aggressive cancer treatment. While you might feel like having sex again after your treatment, it might take time for your body to be ready for it. Sexual problems can last longer than other side effects of cancer treatment. Your problems with sex may depend on the type of cancer you had. These problems can be physical or emotional in nature, and vary from the short-term to the long-term. In the meantime, you and your partner may need to find other ways to show that you care about each other.

 It’s important to seek help in learning how to adapt to these changes

Body image issues

Some survivors may struggle with their body image after treatment and feel less attractive than they used to. The thought of being intimate with someone, and to be looked at without clothes on might cause stress and anxiety. Pain, loss of interest, depression, or cancer medicines can also affect sex drive.

Changes to your sex organs

Some cancers and their treatment can cause changes to your organs, which in turn can have an impact on your sex life. After cancer treatment, some women find it difficult, or even painful, to have sex. Some women also have pain or numbness in their genital area. Men who have undergone treatments for cancers like prostate cancer, penile cancer or testicular cancer may experience erectile dysfunction, weakened orgasm, or problems during ejaculation.

Premature menopause symptoms

Some women may go through menopause prematurely after undergoing cancer treatment. They might experience hot flashes, dryness or tightness in the vagina, and/or other problems that can affect their desire to have sex.

Changes to Fertility

Some cancer treatments can affect the survivor’s ability to have children. This depends completely on the cancer type and the treatment you have undergone. Your doctor may talk to you about infertility as a possible side effect of your treatment. In the meanwhile

You could consider alternate routes to creating a family

Have an open discussion with your doctor about freezing your eggs or any other option that may be available to you

The category of room chosen by the patient (general ward, sharing room, deluxe room or suite)

  • Surrogacy
  • Adoption
  • Fostering
  • Getting involved with a niece or a nephew

Coping with your emotions

The first and foremost way of dealing with these changes is asking for help. You can get in touch with your doctor, a counsellor, peers and other survivors and your caregivers for support.

For men, problems related to erections can be addressed with medication, assistive devices, counselling, surgery, or other approaches that your doctor may suggest.

For women, vaginal dryness or tightness can be caused by menopause. Check with your doctor if using a water-based lubricant during sex, using vaginal dilators before sex, and/or taking hormones or using a hormone cream are options
for you

Genital muscle weakness can be strengthened using Kegel exercises. This can be done by tightening and relaxing the genital muscles as you sit, stand, or go about your day.

Discuss your family planning concerns with your doctor.

Speak to your partner in an open, more engaged way about the challenges you are facing. This can help you feel better about your problems and concerns.

Look for alternate ways to be intimate with your partner. This can help build up your confidence and self-esteem.

Counselling: You may have concerns or questions that you crave answers to. It is advisable to seek professional help and speak to a counsellor regarding certain aspects that cause you stress and worry.

  • Sex therapy
    Talking to a sex therapist might help you work through your concerns, and help you find new ways to cope.
  • Couples therapy
    Some people find that sexual problems related to cancer start to strain their relationship with their partner. Talking to a professional along with your partner might help address some of these challenges.
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