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Sexuality and Reproductive Issues (PDQ®)

Sexual Problems as a Side Effect of Cancer

Many types of cancer and treatments for cancer can cause sexual side effects.

Many types of cancer and cancer treatments can affect sexual function. These changes may be temporary or permanent. Sexual problems are common in patients with the following types of cancer:

Less is known about how other types of cancer affect sexuality.

Both sexual desire and ability can be affected.

The most common sexual problems for cancer patients include the following:

  • Loss of desire for sexual activity in both men and women.
  • In men, problems getting and keeping an erection.
  • In women, pain during intercourse.

Less common problems in men include the following:

Less common problems in women include the following:

  • Pain or numbness in the genitals.
  • Trouble reaching orgasm.

Unlike many other physical side effects of cancer treatment, sexual problems may not get better within the first year or two after cancer treatment. The problems may get worse over time and can get in the way of returning to normal life. That is why it is important to get help with learning to adapt to changes in sexual function.

You and your partner decide what is normal for you.

Sexuality involves both the body and the mind. "Normal" sexual functioning covers a wide range. You and your partner define what is normal for you. Your "normal" may be affected by the following:

  • Gender.
  • Age.
  • Attitudes about sex.
  • Religious values.
  • Cultural values.

Sexual function can be an important part of your quality of life. Talk with your doctor if you have problems or concerns about your sexual function. If your doctor cannot talk with you about sexual problems, ask for information from other places or for the name of a doctor who is comfortable talking with you about them.

  • Updated: December 9, 2013