How treatment for cervical cancer may affect your sex life
The treatments for cervical cancer may affect your sex life, but many of these effects can be prevented or treated.
The treatments for cervical cancer may affect your sex life, but many of these effects can be prevented or treated. It’s important to discuss any concerns or problems with your doctor or nurse. It’s natural for you to feel embarrassed, but they are used to talking about these issues and can give you advice and support.
Effects of treatment may include:
An early menopause
Narrowing of the vagina, which can make sex uncomfortable
Feelings of anxiety or nervousness about having sex again
Unfortunately, some treatments for cervical cancer also will stop you from being able to have children. This can feel devastating, even if you were not planning to have children. Talking to a professional counsellor or therapist can help you come to terms with your grief. Your doctor can also discuss options you may have such as storing embryos (fertilised eggs) before treatment begins.
If you have had a hysterectomy and your ovaries have been removed, or if you’ve had radiotherapy to the pelvis, you will go through the menopause (if you haven’t done so already). Menopausal symptoms can include:
Many of these effects can be eased by hormone creams, skin patches or tablets, prescribed by your doctor. These replace the hormones that are normally produced by the ovaries.
dryness of the vagina
feeling low or anxious
being less interested in sex.
If dryness of the vagina is a problem, your doctor can prescribe creams or you can buy lubricating gels such as KY Jelly, Sylk ® or Astroglide® from the chemist. You or your partner can apply them directly to the penis or vagina during sex.
Radiotherapy to the pelvis can make the vagina become narrower and this can make sex difficult or uncomfortable. The key to overcoming this problem is to keep the muscles in the vagina as supple as possible. Hormone creams applied to the vagina can help, and are available on prescription from your doctor. Using vaginal dilators or having regular penetrative sex are often the best ways to keep the vagina supple. The nurses or your doctor can give you a set of dilators, show you how to use them and answer any questions. They are used to discussing these issues, so you don’t need to feel embarrassed.
Radiotherapy can cause small fragile blood vessels to develop in the vagina, which can lead to slight vaginal bleeding, particularly after sex. Let your doctor or nurse know if this happens so that they can check that everything is okay.
Many women feel nervous about having sex soon after treatment for cancer, but it’s perfectly safe. Sex won’t make the cancer come back and your partner can’t catch cancer from you. Women often find that they need to take more time over sex to help the vagina relax. It may also be easier if your partner is gentle at first so that the vagina can stretch slowly. Regular gentle sex will help the vagina become more supple again and you should be able to go back to your usual sex life a few weeks after the radiotherapy. Women who have had surgery will need to wait longer, usually at least six weeks after their operation, before having sex to allow the body to heal properly. If sex is difficult, you and your partner might find it helps to discuss things with one of your treatment team. Although it might feel embarrassing at first, it can really help to talk things through. Your nurse or doctor will have experience in this area and can advise you about what might help.
You also might find it helpful to read our information on sexuality and cancer , which includes suggestions for coping with sexual problems.
Pelvic radiotherapy will stop you from being able to have children. This can feel devastating. Infertility is very hard to come to terms with, especially if you were planning to have children in the future or to have more children to complete your family. The sense of loss can be very painful and distressing for people of all ages. Sometimes it can feel as though you have actually lost a part of yourself. You may feel less feminine because you can't have children.
It’s important to discuss any concerns you have about your fertility with your healthcare team before treatment starts. They can discuss any options you may have for preserving your fertility. For example, you may be able to store embryos (fertilised eggs), or have your eggs frozen and stored for future use. This must happen before treatment starts. Ovarian tissue which contains eggs can be removed for future use, but this is still a very experimental technique.
Embryo storage may be available on the NHS, but you often have to pay privately for other treatments.
Sometimes, it’s possible to surgically move the ovaries before radiotherapy treatment (ovarian transposition), with the aim of preserving fertility.
Our information on cancer and fertility in women discusses the options for having a baby (such as adoption, surrogacy or egg storage) if treatment has affected your fertility.
People react differently to the risk of infertility. Some women may come to terms with it more quickly and feel that dealing with the cancer is more important. Others may find that they accept the news calmly when they start treatment, and find that they don't feel the full impact until the treatment is over and they are sorting out their lives again.
There is no right or wrong way to react. Your partner will also need special consideration in any discussions about fertility and future plans. You may both need to speak to a professional counsellor or therapist specialising in fertility problems. They can help you to come to terms with your situation.
Your doctor may be able to refer you to a specialist. Our cancer support specialists can discuss any problems you may have and they can also help you to find a counsellor who can offer you help and advice.