Life after cancer treatment

Everyone feels differently when they finish treatment. You might be ready to get on with life or feel worried about the future. It takes time to recover physically and emotionally from cancer and cancer treatment.

You might look different, or feel differently about your body. Give yourself time to adjust to these changes. If something is stopping you from having relationships or sex, always ask for support. If sex is difficult or painful, talk to your healthcare team as there are often ways to improve your sex life.

If you decide you would like to start a family, ask your doctor for advice. If your fertility has been affected, fertility treatments may help. The right time to try for a baby depends on when you finished treatment and the type of cancer and treatment you had. Some women may be advised to try for a baby sooner because they are at risk of any early menopause.

If you aren’t ready to start a family, always use contraception.

After treatment

Although you may feel ready to get on with life after treatment, it’s also common to have mixed feelings. You may have days when you feel anxious or less positive about the future. It can take time to recover physically and emotionally, and to work out what happens next. You have been through a lot so it is completely normal to feel this way.


If your body is different

Cancer and cancer treatment can change your appearance or how you feel about your body. These changes can be short-term or long-term. Some changes are more obvious, such as scars or weight changes. Others, such as changes to fertility or reduced sex drive, can’t be seen but can also have a big effect on you.

If you find it difficult to cope with changes to your body, give yourself time to adjust and be kind to yourself. You may find it gets easier. But if something about your appearance or body is stopping you from having relationships or sex, you may want more advice and support.

Building your confidence can have a positive effect. Try to think of things that make you feel good about yourself. Set yourself goals that you know you can meet. You can work towards larger goals by breaking them into smaller steps. For example, if you’re worried about going out in public, you could start by having some close friends round to watch a film. If you feel comfortable with that, next time you could do something at someone else’s house. Eventually, you might feel confident enough to go out somewhere quiet for a short time with friends.

We have more information about coping with body changes.

Image for me is incredibly important and I have struggled with how much my appearance has changed with cancer.

Jenna

When my hair started to come out, I was embarrassed about what people would think, especially my boyfriend. But he reassured me that it was only hair and that I was still beautiful.

Kirsty


If sex is difficult

Physical and emotional changes after cancer treatment can affect your confidence or your ability to have sex. This could affect your relationship, or make you worried about starting a new relationship. Some changes can be long-term. Some only happen months or years after treatment.

If you find sex is difficult or painful, it’s important to get the right support and information. There are often ways to improve your sex life. It can be embarrassing to talk about it, but your healthcare team understand the issues and can help you.

You can find out more about coping with sexual problems in our information about sexuality and cancer for men and for women.


What about starting a family?

If your fertility is affected after cancer treatment, you may be able to have treatment to help you start a family. Our information about fertility explains more about this.

The right time to try for a baby depends on when you finished treatment and the type of cancer and treatment you had. Talk to your doctor for some advice.

They may advise that you wait for a time before trying for a baby. This gives your body time to recover.

For women

Some women have a risk of an earlier menopause because of their cancer treatment. If this is likely, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. You may be advised to try for a baby sooner to give you the best chance of getting pregnant.

Cancer treatment sometimes makes pregnancy more complicated. Some women may need extra support from their healthcare team during pregnancy if they have had:

  • surgery or radiotherapy to the pelvic area (the area between the hips and below the belly button)
  • cancer treatment that has affected the heart or kidneys.

Even if your cancer treatment was many years ago, let your healthcare team know so they can give you the right care during pregnancy.


Contraception

Even if there is a risk that cancer treatment has affected your fertility, you and a partner may still be able to get pregnant. If you are not ready to start a family, use contraception. We have more information about safe sex and cancer treatment.