Cancer diagnosis and relationships

Cancer can affect your relationships and sex life. Whether you have a partner or are single, talking can help.

If you have a partner

How a cancer diagnosis affects your relationship with your partner may depend on:

  • how long you have been together
  • how long you have had cancer
  • how cancer affects your day-to-day life
  • how well you and your partner understand the changes you are going through
  • whether you live with your partner.

For any couple, talking is important to work through issues like money, work and childcare, if you have children. This is even more important after a cancer diagnosis.

We have information to help you with any practical issues you and your partner may face when preparing for treatment.

Tips for talking to your partner

  • Let your partner know how they can support you

    There are different ways your partner can support you. You might want to ask them to come to hospital appointments. This might help you feel better supported and your partner feel valued. They can ask questions too, which can make later conversations easier.

  • Talk together as a team

    Trying to protect each other from bad news or difficult feelings will create distance in the relationship. If one partner feels they always have to be strong for the other one, they may begin to feel angry and resentful. A cancer diagnosis affects both partners, so let them talk to you about how they feel as well.

  • Deal with strong emotions

    Strong emotions can often make talking difficult.

  • Remember, talking is only one way to communicate

    Facial expressions, body language, gestures and tone all contribute to how we express our thoughts, feelings and ideas. You could also try writing down your feelings and sharing them with your partner.

  • Nurture your relationship

    Spend time together and plan fun activities. It is important to maintain a normal routine for your relationship.

  • Talk about whether cancer is affecting your sex life

    Cancer and its treatments can affect your sexuality, sex life and relationships.

We have more information about talking about your cancer diagnosis and the possible effects on your sex life. We also have a tool, where you can write down your feelings and share these with your partner which may help.

Find support outside of the relationship

It may also be helpful for you or your partner to talk to others in a similar situation. You can do this on our Online Community. You may also want to speak to a counsellor or go to a support group, either on your own or with your partner.

Some organisations offer relationship counselling, such as Relate and Relationships Scotland.

If your partner is your carer

Your partner may also be your carer. A carer is anyone who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend who could not manage without this help. If your partner is your carer, this can also have a big impact on your relationship.

Your partner may find it helpful to read our information about looking after someone with cancer. It has practical tips for carers.

If you want to start a new relationship

If you are single, you may or may not feel like this is the right time to start a new relationship.

If you do want to start a new relationship, it may be hard to decide:

  • what to tell a new partner about the cancer
  • when to tell a new partner about the cancer.

It is best to be open with the other person and make time to discuss your situation.

If you think that you need some help, you can get support from family, friends or a support organisation such as Relate.

You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Ali's story

Ali shares her experience of meeting someone after a cancer diagnosis, and how not being able to have honest conversations about sex, relationships and cancer impacted her.

Read Ali's story.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 May 2019
Next review: 31 May 2022

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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