Cancer Treatments and Sex

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The fight against cancer means living. Understand your cancer treatment, including how it can affect your sexual health.

Sexual health and cancer can be an important part of your conversations with your oncologist and other health care providers.

More cancer patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Cancer Institute, where they find sophisticated expertise, including access to innovative clinical trials, and a commitment to treating the whole person — not just the cancer.

The Norton Cancer Institute Sexual Health Program brings together the expertise from across Norton Healthcare, including oncology and women’s care, to address the sexual concerns and conditions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Treatments for any type of cancer can affect your body’s sexual response, your interest in sex and whether it’s safe to have sex.

Chemotherapy and Sex

Chemotherapy side effects can include early menopause, including a loss of fertility and symptoms such as vaginal dryness, pain with sex, hot flashes or decreased desire.

Discuss the safety of sexual intimacy during chemotherapy with your doctor, including if there is a need for pregnancy prevention, what types of sexual activity are safe, and what protection is needed for your partner.

Consult with your doctor, but for most patients, chemotherapy itself is no reason to refrain from sexual intimacy. The fatigue, hormonal effects and other side effects of chemotherapy may simply leave you not feeling like it.

Ask your doctor if your gynecological or other organs need to heal, if you are susceptible to infection, if there is a risk of severe bleeding or if you could become pregnant.

Even if sex is out of the question for the time being, keep in mind that intimacy and affection don’t need to be set aside.

Sexual Intimacy After Cancer Surgery

Surgery to remove cancers can mean changes or the loss of body parts associated with sexuality.

Surgery for gynecological cancer can leave vaginal canal scarring, narrowing (stenosis) or pain. Removal of the ovaries can cause early menopause. Breast removal, even with advancements in plastic surgery and reconstruction, can leave a loss of feeling that can affect arousal. Mastectomy also can change the way a person feels about their body.

Some cancer treatments require bypassing diseased parts of the colon and require a colostomy — an artificial opening in the abdominal wall — that can affect feelings about sexuality.

Sex and Radiation Treatment

Radiation for gynecologic cancers can cause the vagina to narrow and shorten, leading to pain during sex. Clinically known as vaginal stenosis, prevention and treatment include progressive vaginal dilators and pelvic floor physical therapy. Radiation also can leave scar tissue, making vaginal tissue tough. Patients who are treated with pelvic radiation for other cancers, such as rectal cancer, can also develop these issues.

Radiation to the head and neck can change production of saliva — which can affect kissing and oral sex.

Sexual Side Effects of Tamoxifen and Other Hormone Blockers

Tamoxifen and other hormone-blocking breast cancer treatments can cause menopausal symptoms that affect sexual intimacy. Side effects include vulvar and vaginal dryness, thinning of vaginal tissue, decreased libido, hot flashes and night sweats.

Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants may help relieve symptoms of dryness.

Stem Cell Transplant

After stem cell transplant, it is possible for graft-versus-host disease to affect the vagina and sexual intimacy. It is important to discuss this with your doctor.

Why Choose Norton Cancer Institute

More patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Cancer Institute than any other provider in the area. We provide compassionate care for the whole person, not just the cancer.

Our Norton Cancer Institute oncologists are also researchers and principal investigators, offering patients sophisticated experience in the latest treatments and access to more than 200 clinical trials.

  • Access to more than 100 specialists, including board-certified and fellowship-trained oncologists
  • Multidisciplinary setting, meaning patients get the benefit of opinions from multiple specialists across Norton Healthcare and often can schedule appointments for the same day in the same location
  • Immunotherapies such as CAR-T cell therapy, genetic therapies tailored to combat the unique genetic makeup of your cancer and the latest in surgical treatments, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
  • New, state-of-the-art Norton Cancer Institute Genomics Lab offering highly specialized testing that will make it possible to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely and to tailor advanced treatments based on a tumor’s specific genetic composition
  • Prompt Care Clinics designed especially for providing symptom relief and other care to Norton Cancer Institute patients
  • MyNortonChart to communicate with your provider, manage appointments, refill prescriptions and more anytime from a mobile device or computer

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