Starting cancer treatment

When you are diagnosed with cancer it’s important to get the facts and support you need. This includes information about fertility and sex.

Some cancer treatments may affect fertility. But you may be able to have treatment to keep your fertility (fertility preservation). Your cancer doctor or nurse will explain your options before you start treatment.

During cancer treatment, it’s important not to start a pregnancy. Some treatments could harm an unborn baby. It’s best to use a condom or cap as hormonal contraception may be less effective during your treatment.

You should also use condoms or latex barriers such as dental dams to protect your partner during sex. Small amounts of chemotherapy or other drugs can get into your body fluids, including vaginal fluid and fluid that contains sperm.

Make sure you protect yourself too. Use condoms and dental dams to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. If you have anal sex, condoms and water or silicon-based lubricant can help prevent damage or bleeding. Don’t give oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth.

Your doctor or nurse can give you more information about sex and contraception.

Talking to your medical team

When you are diagnosed with cancer, it can feel like everything happens very quickly. Your cancer doctor or nurse may give you lots of information about cancer and treatments, and you may have decisions to make.

It is important that you get all the facts and support you need to make these decisions. This may include getting information about fertility and sex. You should also take time to think about what you want to do.

Cancer and fertility

Cancer and cancer treatments can affect your fertility (your ability to have children). Your cancer doctor or nurse will talk to you about this before your treatment starts. If cancer treatment is likely to affect your fertility, you may be able to have treatment to keep your fertility (fertility preservation) first.

For men and boys, fertility preservation usually means collecting and storing samples of your sperm. For women and girls, it can mean collecting and storing your eggs or tissue from one of your ovaries. Or, your collected eggs can be fertilised with sperm and any embryos that develop are stored.

You don’t have to be in a relationship or know whether you want to be a parent to have fertility preservation. It just gives you options in the future. Your fertility may be something you haven’t thought about much before. You may come to terms with the situation quickly and feel that dealing with the cancer is more important. Or you may find that you don’t process what has happened until the treatment is over.

We have more information about cancer and fertility that you may find helpful.

I had to have my sperm frozen, which is something you’d never think about as a young guy. I had no idea whether I might want kids.


Safe sex during treatment

If you have sex during cancer treatment, it is important to protect yourself and your partner and to prevent a pregnancy. If you have any questions about this, ask your doctor or nurse for advice.

Preventing pregnancy

Some cancer treatments can be harmful to an unborn baby. Whatever your gender, you should use contraception to prevent a pregnancy during your treatment and for a time after. Even if your cancer treatment is likely to damage your fertility, you may still be able to get pregnant or get someone pregnant.

There are many different types of contraception. The best ones to use during cancer treatment are a condom or cap (diaphragm). Some hormonal contraceptives (such as the pill, patch, injection or implants) may be less effective during cancer treatment. This is because of:

  • the drugs you are taking
  • side effects you may have, such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

Ask your doctor or nurse if you have any questions about contraception.

Protecting your partner

Small amounts of chemotherapy, or other drugs, can get into your body fluids. That includes fluid made in the vagina and the fluid that contains sperm. To protect your partner, your cancer doctor may advise that for a few days after treatment you:

  • use a condom (or a latex barrier such as a dental dam) for oral sex
  • use a condom for vaginal or anal sex.

Your cancer doctor or nurse will be able to give you more information about your treatment.

Protecting yourself

Using condoms and dental dams also helps protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is important even if you are not having cancer treatment. But it is even more important if your cancer treatment affects how your body fights infections.

If you have cuts or sores in your mouth, there is a risk these could become infected. It is best not to give your partner oral sex until they heal.

For anal sex, use a condom and some water or silicon-based lubricant. The inside of the anus does not make fluid like the vagina does. This means it is easier to cause bleeding or infection during anal sex. Don’t use the same condom to have vaginal sex. It can spread germs to the vagina and cause infections.

When your platelets are low, you have a higher risk of bleeding. If you notice any bleeding after sex, tell your doctor. If there is a lot of blood or it doesn’t stop, contact your hospital straight away.

After high-dose chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant, your doctor may advise you not to have close physical contact with anyone for a while. This is because even an infection might be dangerous for you. Your doctor can give you more information about this.