Effects of radiotherapy on sexuality
Radiotherapy can sometimes cause physical changes that may affect your sex life. If you’re having problems, it may help to talk these over with your partner and your medical team.
Although it can be embarrassing to talk to health professionals about intimate concerns, remember that they are used to dealing with these issues and can suggest things that will help.
Both men and women may temporarily lose interest in sex. This is common and may happen because of worries about the future, or even because the treatment is making you too tired to think about sex. Men may become temporarily unable to get an erection (erectile dysfunction – ED).
Losing interest in sex can be distressing, but it will usually come back as the effects of treatment wear off.
You can get advice and support from the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists. You may also wish to call us and speak in confidence to one of our cancer support specialists.
Having external or internal radiotherapy to the pelvic area can also cause specific side effects that may affect your sex life.
Our section about sexuality and cancer describes practical ways of dealing with changes to sexuality.
Radiotherapy to the pelvis usually affects the ovaries. Radiotherapy to the ovaries will bring on the menopause, which can cause dryness in the vagina. Treatment to the vaginal area can make the vagina narrower and also cause dryness.
There are a number of practical ways to manage menopausal symptoms, vaginal problems and these are discussed in detail in our section about sexuality and cancer. It’s important to let your healthcare team know about any concerns you have so they can help you. You can also talk to the radiotherapy staff.
Radiotherapy to the pelvis to treat bladder, rectal or prostate cancer may cause erectile dysfunction. This may develop months or even years after the radiotherapy has finished.
If you’re likely to develop any of these problems, your oncologist or specialist nurse will discuss them with you before you consent to the treatment.
There are a number practical ways to help overcome impotence and these are discussed in detail in our section about sexuality and cancer. It’s important to let your healthcare team know about any concerns you have so they can help you. You can also talk to the radiotherapy staff.
Even if your treatment is likely to make you infertile, you will still be advised to use a reliable form of birth control. If pregnancy occurs during or shortly after radiotherapy, there is a possibility that the unborn baby could be harmed.
Feelings about sexuality and infertility
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It’s not easy to come to terms with the prospect of infertility, or with the other side effects of treatment. It will take a while for you to come to terms with your feelings and be able to talk about them. When you’re ready, it may help to talk openly to your partner, a relative or friend. This will make it easier for them to help and support you.
Some people prefer to talk to someone they don’t know. Support groups offer you the chance to talk to other people who have been through a similar experience. Our cancer support specialists can tell you about groups in your area.
Another possibility is to talk things over with a counsellor. Your hospital may offer a counselling service or our cancer support specialists can tell you how to contact a counsellor.