Effects of chemotherapy on women

Chemotherapy and sexuality

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Some of the side effects of chemotherapy can reduce your sex drive. These side effects include feeling sick, weakness, depression, tiredness and a lack of energy. Many of these can be reduced or stopped with medicines.

Usually there’s no medical reason to stop having sex during chemotherapy. But if you have low platelets, or a low white blood cell count, you may be advised to avoid penetrative sex until your blood count improves.

Effects of chemotherapy

Some anti-sickness tablets can cause a low sex drive. Once you stop taking these, your sex drive should come back.

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the nerves in your hand and feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy. It can cause tingling or numbness, or a feeling of pins and needles and pain.

If your hands are uncomfortable or numb, you may find some sexual contact or positions difficult. Peripheral neuropathy is usually temporary, but it may be permanent.

Once chemotherapy is over, your sex drive will usually come back in time. However, if the chemotherapy has made your hair fall out, if you’ve lost weight, or if you have a central line or PICC line, you may not feel very ‘sexy’.

Tiredness may cause a lower sex drive and reduce arousal during sex. Some medicines can help increase your sex drive and improve arousal. You can discuss this with your healthcare team.

Hormonal changes

Chemotherapy can reduce the amount of hormone the ovaries produce. You may notice changes to your periods, which can sometimes stop altogether. Even if your periods stop, it’s important to talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about contraception. This is because it is still possible to become pregnant, even with an irregular menstrual cycle. You should use a reliable barrier method of contraception all through your treatment and for up to a year afterwards.

Hormonal changes can cause menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, irritability, sleep disturbances and vaginal dryness. Vaginal thrush is common in women having chemotherapy, especially if they’re taking steroids or powerful antibiotics to prevent infection. Your doctor can prescribe treatment for this.

Changes in hormone levels may cause a lower sex drive and reduce arousal during sex. Some medicines can help increase your sex drive and improve arousal. You can discuss this with your healthcare team.

Back to Effects of treatment on a woman's sexuality

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