Many cancer survivors have questions or concerns about how cancer and its treatments can affect fertility and sexual health. Read below to find information and resources about these important topics.
Cancer and Fertility
Cancer treatments may cause temporary or permanent infertility. A patient's risk of cancer-related infertility depends on his or her age and treatment details such as the following:
- Dose and frequency of certain chemotherapy or hormone-blocking drugs
- Radiation to the pelvic area
- Surgery to remove all or part of the reproductive system (such as the uterus, ovaries, or testicles)
Fertility preservation includes ways to maintain one's ability to have children if for some reason a person becomes temporarily or permanently infertile. Some examples of fertility preservation include freezing sperm, eggs, or ovarian tissue before cancer treatment. Other options include in vitro fertilization, intrauterine insemination, and gestational surrogacy after cancer treatment.
Here are some helpful questions to ask your health care team about cancer and fertility:
- What are my fertility preservation options?
- How much time do I have to preserve my fertility before starting treatment?
- How will I know if I am fertile after treatment?
- How do I know when it is safe to try to conceive after treatment?
- Will there be any health risks to me or my future children?
It is important for patients to discuss these questions and changes in sexual health and fertility with the health care team before treatment begins. Knowing what to expect can help the patient and their loved ones prepare for and manage any issues.
Cancer and Sexual Health
Cancer and its treatments sometimes cause side effects that make it difficult to have sexual intercourse:
- Men: Genital discomfort, pain during ejaculation, or difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection
- Women: Dry vagina, abnormal vaginal discharge, or bleeding after or during intercourse
If any of these side effects occur, patients should tell their health care team. The doctor and other specialists can find the cause and identify ways to help. For example, some men benefit from penile rehabilitation, and some men and women benefit from hormone replacement therapy to help restore sexual function.
Here are some suggestions for managing cancer-related changes in sexual health:
- Patients should talk openly with their partners and health care teams about sex. Express expectations, concerns, or any problems affecting sexual health.
- Patients of child-bearing age should ask their health care teams when it is safe to resume unprotected sex after treatment.
- Keep an open mind about ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. Intimacy can still be expressed by touching, cuddling, and sharing feelings.
- Learn more from our Sexuality: Managing Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects webpage.
Emotional and Psychological Effects on Sexual Health
Many patients experience feelings and emotions that lessen sexual desire during or after cancer treatment such as fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, and negative body image. The partner may also feel anxious about wanting sexual intimacy for fear it might come across as pressure or that it might cause discomfort.
Honest communication of feelings, concerns, and preferences is important. Some patients benefit from sexual counseling, which can offer many benefits:
- Address body image and self-esteem concerns
- Explore emotional impacts of cancer and treatment
- Increase confidence and hopefulness
- Teach new or better ways to communicate and cope
Where to Find Help and More Information
- The Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine offers advanced technologies and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of infertility. For more information, call 801-581-3834 or visit www.healthcare.utah.edu/ucrm.
- Fertile Hope provides reproductive information, support, and financial assistance to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments present the risk of infertility. For more information, call toll free 1-855-220-7777 or visit www.fertilehope.org.
- Huntsman Cancer Institute offers many resources to address cancer-related changes in fertility and sexual health:
For more information, contact the Cancer Learning Center at 1-888-424-2100.