Effects on sex life and fertility

Chemotherapy and its side effects can affect your sex life and fertility. It can help to talk through any concerns with your doctor or specialist nurse. It is also important to try to talk about how you feel with your partner.

Doctors will advise you to use condoms for a few days after chemotherapy to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluid.

It is important to use contraception to prevent pregnancies during treatment and for a few months after. This is to avoid pregnancy as the drugs could harm a developing baby. Breastfeeding during chemotherapy treatment is not advised.

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect fertility. This may be temporary or permanent. It is important to discuss your risk of infertility with your cancer doctor before you start chemotherapy. They can advise you on the options you may have. If you have a partner, you could include them in this discussion.

Effects on sex life

Having chemotherapy can sometimes affect your sex life. Side effects like tiredness or feeling sick or weak can reduce your sex drive and make having sex difficult. Feeling low or anxious can also affect your sex life. You might have worries about the cancer, how your family is coping or about money.

Usually, there is no medical reason to stop having sex during chemotherapy. But if you have low platelets or a low level of white blood cells, your doctor may advise you to avoid penetrative sex until your blood cell levels improve.

It can help to talk through any concerns about your sex life with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can often reassure you and support you with any problems. It is also important to try to talk about how you feel with your partner. Cuddling, touching and stroking are good ways of showing your feelings even if you do not feel like having sex.

Chemotherapy should not have a long-term effect on your sex life. The side effects usually gradually wear off after your treatment finishes.

How cancer can affect relationships

Ron and his wife Linda share their experience of how their relationship changed after Ron was diagnosed with cancer.

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How cancer can affect relationships

Ron and his wife Linda share their experience of how their relationship changed after Ron was diagnosed with cancer.

About our cancer information videos


Protecting your partner

If you have sex in the first few days of having chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluid.

Cancer cannot be passed on to your partner and sex will not make the cancer worse.


Contraception

It is important to use effective contraception during chemotherapy and for a few months afterwards to avoid a pregnancy. This is because the chemotherapy drugs could harm a developing baby. Your cancer doctor or nurse can give you more advice.

During treatment, it is usually best to use barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms or the cap. Or you could use a coil (use a non-hormonal coil if you have breast cancer). Side effects from chemotherapy, such as sickness and diarrhoea, can make the contraceptive pill less effective.


Pregnancy and chemotherapy

If you know you are pregnant before starting treatment, or become pregnant during treatment, tell your cancer doctor or nurse straight away. They will talk things over carefully with you and your partner. They will explain the possible risks and benefits of having chemotherapy during pregnancy.

It is sometimes possible to delay chemotherapy until after a baby is born, or to have it later in the pregnancy. This depends on the type of cancer, its stage, the drugs you need, and how many months pregnant you are. Your cancer doctor and nurse will explain the different options in your situation.

This can be a difficult and distressing time, especially if you need to make decisions about continuing with the pregnancy. You will need time to think about the information you have been given and to talk about it with your partner and family.

Your cancer team will help to support you. If you need more specialised help, they can refer you to a counsellor. You can also talk to our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.


Breastfeeding and chemotherapy

Breastfeeding during chemotherapy is not advised. This is because the drugs could be passed to your baby through breast milk. You may be able to express extra milk before chemotherapy starts and freeze it to use later.

During chemotherapy, you may be able to express milk. You cannot keep or use it, but you may be able to express so you are still producing milk when your treatment finishes. 

You may be able to start breastfeeding after chemotherapy. But this will depend on whether you are having any other treatment that could interfere with breastfeeding. Your cancer doctor and nurse will tell you about this.

Having chemotherapy will not affect your ability to breastfeed in the future.


Early menopause

In some women, chemotherapy causes an early menopause. This can cause menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, vaginal dryness, anxiety, mood swings and a reduced sex drive (libido). Your periods will stop and you’ll start the menopause. Doctors usually say early menopause is before 45.

You may be able to have Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to replace the hormones your ovaries are no longer producing. It can improve some symptoms of menopause and protect your bones and heart. Early menopause can increase the risk of bone thinning.

But some cancers, for example breast cancer and womb cancer, depend on hormones to grow so your specialist may not advise HRT. We have more information about managing menopausal symptoms for women with breast cancer.

If you’ve had early menopause because of chemotherapy, ask your cancer specialist if HRT is suitable for you.

Breast cancer and the menopause

Diane describes living with breast cancer and the menopausal symptoms that were caused by her chemotherapy.

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Breast cancer and the menopause

Diane describes living with breast cancer and the menopausal symptoms that were caused by her chemotherapy.

About our cancer information videos


Managing menopausal symptoms

If your doctor does not advise you to take HRT or if you do not want to take it, there are different ways that symptoms can be managed. If your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life, ask your doctor about other medicines that may help with menopausal symptoms.

Low doses of anti-depressant drugs, or a drug called Clonidine (Catapres®, Dixarit®) which is used to control blood pressure, can reduce hot flushes and sweats. Some women find that using a slow, controlled breathing technique, yoga or acupuncture may help with flushes. Different lubricants or creams can help reduce discomfort from vaginal dryness during sex.


Effects on fertility

Unfortunately, some chemotherapy drugs can cause infertility. Infertility is the inability to become pregnant or to father a child. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the treatment that you have.

It’s important to discuss your infertility risk with your cancer doctor before you start chemotherapy. If you have a partner, it’s a good idea to include them at this discussion.

Although chemotherapy can affect fertility, it’s still possible for a woman to get pregnant or for a man to get his partner pregnant during chemotherapy. It’s important to avoid pregnancy when you’re having chemotherapy as the drugs could harm a developing baby.


Women

Some, but not all, chemotherapy drugs may temporarily or permanently stop your ovaries producing eggs.

Chemotherapy may cause your periods to become irregular or stop for a while (temporary infertility). But after treatment stops the ovaries can start producing eggs again and your periods will return to normal. It may take a few months or up to two years for them to come back again. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have periods again and still be fertile after chemotherapy.

If your periods don’t come back you won’t be able to become pregnant and will have your menopause.

It’s important to know if your fertility is likely to be affected before chemotherapy starts. You can then decide if you want to be referred to a fertility specialist. They can discuss possible options to help preserve your fertility, such as storing embryos (fertilised eggs) or eggs, with you.

Cancer treatment and fertility

Robert talks about having treatment to preserve his fertility when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

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Cancer treatment and fertility

Robert talks about having treatment to preserve his fertility when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

About our cancer information videos


Feelings about infertility

If you had been planning to have children, infertility can be very hard to come to terms with.

You may find it helpful to talk about your feelings with a trained counsellor or therapist who specialises in fertility problems. Your doctor or specialist nurse may be able to arrange this. Our cancer support specialists on freephone 0808 808 00 00 can also provide support.

'Give us a call, we're here to listen.'

Zahida from our support line talks about how giving us a call can help.

More about our support line

'Give us a call, we're here to listen.'

Zahida from our support line talks about how giving us a call can help.

More about our support line

Back to Side effects of chemotherapy

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Late effects of chemotherapy

Late effects are side effects you still have 6 months after chemotherapy or side effects that begin years later.