Coping With Sexual Problems Related to Chemotherapy
What You Can Do
- Ask your doctor if the chemotherapy will likely affect your ability to father a child. If so, ask if the effects be temporary or permanent.
- Before starting treatment, talk to your doctor about the possibility of sperm banking if infertility may be a problem. Banking is a procedure that freezes sperm for future use.
- Use birth control with your partner during treatment. Ask your doctor how long you need to use birth control.
- Ask if you should use a condom during sexual intercourse after chemotherapy, since some of the chemotherapy may end up in the sperm.
Effects on the Ovaries
- Infertility —Damage to the ovaries may result in infertility, the inability to become pregnant. The infertility can be either temporary or permanent. Women of child-bearing potential who wish to preserve their ability to become pregnant have an option of embryo cryopreservation. A referral to a fertility expert will be needed in such situations.
- Ovarian failure —A woman's age and the drugs and dosages used will determine whether she experiences an ovarian failure while on chemotherapy. Chemotherapy-induced amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) is a well-recognized side effect of chemotherapy. Some women develop complete and permanent ovarian failure ( menopause ) during chemotherapy. Other women may stop menstruating during therapy, but then later (months to years) the ovarian function, menstrual cycles, and fertility may return. Chemotherapy may also cause menopause-like symptoms such as hot flashes and dry vaginal tissues. These tissue changes can make intercourse uncomfortable and can make a woman more prone to bladder and/or vaginal infections. Any infection should be treated right away.
Help for Hot Flashes
- Dress in layers—to help you remain comfortable and avoid feeling overheated
- Exercise—to increase energy level, reduce the risk of depression, and improve bone health
- Try meditation or other relaxation methods—to improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and enhance your overall mood
Relieving Vaginal Symptoms and Preventing Infection
- Use a water-based vaginal lubricant at the time of intercourse.
- There are products that can be used to stop vaginal dryness. Ask your doctor about vaginal gels that can be applied to the vagina.
- Avoid using petroleum jelly, which is difficult for the body to get rid of. It also increases the risk of a yeast infection.
- Wear cotton underwear and pantyhose with a ventilated cotton lining.
- Avoid wearing tight pants or shorts.
- Ask your doctor about prescribing a vaginal cream or suppository to reduce the chances of infection.
Feelings About Sexuality
- Worries about changes in appearance.
- Anxiety about health, family, or finances.
- Side effects of treatment, including fatigue and hormonal changes.
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National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2014 -
- Update Date: 02/05/2014 -
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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