Bowel cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life and how you think and feel about your body.

Your sex life

Your diagnosis, treatment and side effects may affect your sex life. It can also affect how you think and feel about your body (body image). Difficulties often improve slowly after treatment, although for some people it may take longer.

If you have a partner, you may both find it takes time to adjust to any changes. Most people can go back to their usual sex life. But some people find their surgery or the side effects of treatment prevent that.

You may feel insecure and worry about whether your present or future partner will find you attractive, especially if you have a stoma. It is normal to feel like this when you are adjusting to body changes.

Information for men

Men may find that treatment has damaged the nerves that go to the sexual organs. If this happens, a man may not be able to have or maintain an erection. They may also have problems with orgasm and ejaculation. There are treatments available that can help men have erections, such as:

  • tablets like sildenafil (Viagra®)
  • vacuum pumps
  • pellets inserted into the penis
  • implants.

It’s important to discuss this with your doctor as soon as you notice a problem. Treatment can often be more effective when it is started sooner.

We have more information about sex life and fertility for men.

Information for women

Women may also find that treatment has damaged the nerves that are important for sexual function. Sometimes this causes problems with arousal and orgasm. This may improve over time, but sometimes it is permanent.

If you have any of these problems, talk it over with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can offer the best advice and may refer you for a specialist assessment. Taking HRT can help if you have problems caused by menopausal symptoms.

We have more information about sex and fertility for women.

Anal sex after treatment

Surgery to remove the anus means anal sex and anal play are no longer possible. If the anus has not been removed but you have had radiotherapy, you may need to be cautious with anal sex. The tissues in the area may be fragile and less able to heal. It may make anal sex uncomfortable or impossible. Your doctor can tell you more about this.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.