Fertility, menopause and sex

Treatments for cervical cancer can:

  • Affect your fertility. This can be hard to cope with, even if you were not planning to have children. It is important to discuss your feelings with your partner, if you have one, so you can support each other. Or you may wish to talk to a counsellor or support organisation. You should discuss any worries with your healthcare team before treatment starts. They can tell you about the options that might be available if you would like to have a child in the future.
  • Bring on an early menopause. This can cause menopausal symptoms and may increase your risk of bone thinning and heart disease. Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk with you about what can help with this.
  • Affect your sex life. This often gradually improves after treatment, although for some women it may take longer. If you find it difficult to get aroused or take longer to orgasm, a sex therapist or counsellor may be able to help you. Your doctor can refer you, or you can find a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.

Fertility

If you have pelvic radiotherapy or a hysterectomy, your fertility will be affected. This can be difficult to cope with, even if you have had a family or did not plan to have children. If you have a partner, it is important to discuss your feelings about this together so that you can support each other. Some people find it helpful to talk to someone other than their family and friends. There are support organisations you can contact to share experiences with other people in a similar situation. You may consider counselling. Your doctor or specialist nurse may be able to arrange this for you. Or there are counselling organisations you can contact.

It is important to discuss any concerns you have about your fertility with your healthcare team before treatment starts. They can tell you what options might be available if you would like to have a child in the future. For example, you may be able to have your eggs or embryos (fertilised eggs) frozen and stored for future use. This would have to happen before treatment starts. Embryo storage may be available on the NHS, but you often have to pay privately for other treatments.

After a hysterectomy or pelvic radiotherapy, you will no longer be able to carry a baby in your womb. But surrogacy may be possible. Surrogacy means that another woman carries the baby for you.

If you need fertility advice or fertility treatment before your cancer treatment, your hospital team will refer you to a fertility specialist.


Menopause

If you have not had a menopause and your ovaries are removed or affected by radiotherapy, you will have an early menopause.

This can cause menopausal symptoms such as:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • joint and muscle pain
  • effects on mood (for example, low mood)
  • lower energy levels
  • poor sleep
  • lack of concentration
  • vaginal dryness
  • reduced sexual desire.

These symptoms are caused by a low oestrogen level. An early menopause can also increase your risk of bone thinning and heart disease. Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk with you about what can help with menopausal symptoms and what you can do to help protect your bone health and heart health.

Most specialists recommend that women with early menopause have oestrogen replacement to protect their bones and heart, and to treat menopausal symptoms. Oestrogen replacement can be taken as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or as a combined oral contraceptive pill. This treatment is usually taken until the average age for women to have the menopause, which is 50 to 52 years old.

Some women worry about taking HRT because of the risk of breast cancer. But when taken to treat an early menopause, HRT does not increase this risk. However, if you have had breast cancer, HRT may not be suitable for you. Your cancer doctor can talk with you about this.

When you are deciding whether to have HRT, it is important to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor. This will help you to decide if HRT is right for you.

An organisation called the Daisy Network supports women who have an early menopause. You may find it helpful to contact them if you need more support.


Sex after treatment

Cervical cancer, its treatments and their side effects may affect your sex life and how you feel about yourself as a woman. This often gradually improves after treatment, although for some women it may take longer.

Cuddles, kisses and massages are affectionate and sensual ways of showing how much you care for someone, even if you do not feel like having sex. You can wait until you and your partner feel ready.

It is common to feel nervous about sex after cancer treatment, but it is perfectly safe for both you and your partner. At first, it may be easier to take more time to help you relax and for your partner to be very gentle.

After radiotherapy or a radical hysterectomy, some women find it harder to get aroused or take longer to orgasm. This might be because of effects on the nerves in the pelvic area. But it may be because of a change in the way you feel about yourself sexually. A sex therapist or counsellor may be able to help you with these issues. Your doctor can refer you to a sex therapist or you can contact a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you are having problems with your sex life. They may be able to offer help and support. Many people find it difficult to talk about sexual difficulties because they feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Your doctor or nurse will be used to talking about these issues. But if you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you can call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Back to Beginning to recover

After treatment for cervical cancer

After your treatment ends, you will receive follow-up care from your healthcare team. You will also need time to recover after your treatment finishes.

Lifestyle and well-being

Looking after yourself and doing some physical activity can be an important part of your recovery.