Sexuality and Chemotherapy
Common Problems With Sexuality: Impotence, Gynecomastia, Loss of Libido, Vaginal
Dryness, Vaginal Infection,
and Genital Pain
Intimacy and sexuality are very important to us as human beings. We all need to
love something, whether it is a pet, a child, a family member or a friend. We all
hope for the love we give to another will be returned. Intimacy and sexuality are
intricate- being emotional and physical in nature. We need to feel good about ourselves,
with good self-esteem, and be physically able to perform acts of intimacy.
While you are receiving chemotherapy cancer treatment, the way that you define yourself,
and your sexuality, may be challenged. This is a normal part of adapting to what
is going on in your body, and environment.
Chemotherapy may cause many changes to your body image and self-esteem, with both
physical and emotional changes occurring at the same time. It is okay to explore
your feelings, alone and with your loved ones.
Ways that Chemotherapy and cancer may affect our outlook on our sexuality includes:
- Hair loss - One common problem is the partial or complete hair loss that may occur
with treatment. This may have a profound psychological impact on one's
ability to feel "sexy" or desired by a partner. Hair loss may occur not only
on the head but the entire body including arm, leg, facial and pubic hair.
- Weight gain or loss - A common side effect of treatment is weight gain from steroid
medications or weight loss from lack of appetite. This may contribute to one having
a negative self- image.
- Other side effects of chemotherapy - Many side effects of treatment including, nausea,
pain or depression may have a negative impact on your ability to feel intimate.
- Fatigue, pain or sleep deprivation - These are all frequent side effects of cancer,
and cancer treatment. These are commonly affecting patients with cancer as a result
of therapy, or a result of your disease
- Trouble breathing, or a long-term cough - From lung tumors, or tumors near your
- Constipation, diarrhea, colostomy bags, fistulas or open wounds all may lead to
a decreased desire for sexual relations
- Swelling from your lymph glands after they were removed, or due to certain cancers
- Decreased blood counts, or current infections will place you at risk for illness
- Hormonal - in women, whether you are experiencing post-menopausal symptoms of hot
flashes, dryness of your vagina or lack of lubrication as a result of your treatment,
usually due to a lack of estrogen, these can all impact your sexual health. In men,
as a side effect of chemotherapy, or treatment for disease, you may be deficient
in the hormone testosterone.
- Erectile dysfunction (impotence) - this usually occurs following treatment from
testicular, penile, or prostate cancer in men
Physical side effects of cancer are not the only ways that your sexuality may be
affected. Psychological effects are important as well. These include:
- Anxiety - will I be able to function like I normally did?
- Depression - over your current situation
- Fear - of recurrence, or relapse of your disease once in remission, of being able
to perform sexually and "satisfy" your partner. Some women and men may also fear
of transmitting cancer, or being "radioactive", following radiation implants, or
- Grief - from your situational change
- Guilt - "what did I do to get cancer? Why did I smoke for so long, when I knew it
was bad for me?"
- Feelings of low self-esteem, isolation (like you are the only one experiencing this,
and you are all alone)
Things You Can Do:
The most important thing you can do is to share your concerns with your loved ones.
Failing to communicate may lead to increasing emotional and physical distance between
you and your partner. A loving and concerned partner may easily alleviate
some of the fears you have. It is important to communicate your concerns -
whatever they may be.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For Men: Hormone replacement therapy for men did not receive treatment for a hormone
- related tumor (such as with prostate or testicular cancer) might be an option.
Androgen patches and testosterone replacement may be done under the supervision
of an endocrinologist (someone who specializes in hormones).
For Women: If you did not receive treatment for a hormone sensitive tumor, you may
also be a candidate for estrogen replacement therapy, to decrease the symptoms of
menopause, including vaginal dryness, mood swings and hot flashes. Women of many
age groups are driven into menopause by their chemotherapy. Other alternatives for
the treatment of postmenopausal symptoms may include antidepressants, or clonidine
(an anti-hypertensive agent) therapy. Natural herbs are not usually recommended,
as many of these contain estrogen-like compounds.
Common Problems With Sexuality: Impotence
- Support groups are valuable ways to meet people who are sharing the same experiences,
and may help you to feel less alone. Those who belong to a support group may be
newly diagnosed, or in remission for years. You may find that some of your fears
are ones that others are experiencing. You may also find some helpful hints for
managing your disease. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider if there is
a support group that is right for you.
- Many symptoms of treatment that lead to a lack of sexual desire, including, nausea,
diarrhea, pain and depression, can be alleviated or controlled by medications. Discuss
your symptoms with your physician or healthcare provider. They may be able to help
- For women who are having problems with pain during intercourse, associated with
the tightness that often follows radiation therapy, or treatment for vaginal cancer,
you may benefit from the use of a vaginal dilator. A dilator will help to slowly
stretch the vagina over a period of time. Your healthcare provider can provide a
dilator, and material to educate you on how to use the device.
- Do things to make you feel good about yourself, and how you look. Looking good may
help you to feel better. Body image can be enhanced by the use of wigs, scarves,
or makeup. Some people enjoy the use of permanent cosmetics. These techniques
allow for eyebrows to be recreated and eyeliner to be placed enhancing or replacing
lost facial features. Make sure to have your permanent make-up applied only
by a licensed provider, and with your physician's permission.
- The key is to feel better physically and mentally so that you can enjoy your sexuality.
, Loss of Libido
, Vaginal Infection
and Genital Pain
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care
professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information
contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.