Sexual and Fertility Problems (Women)

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Many cancer treatments cause changes to a woman’s fertility and sexuality. It’s important to talk with your doctor to learn what to expect before starting treatment.

Credit: iStock

Many cancer treatments and some types of cancer can cause sexual and fertility-related side effects. Whether or not you have these problems depends on the type of treatment(s) you receive, your age at time of treatment, and the length of time since treatment.

It is important to get information about how the treatment recommended for you may affect your fertility before you start treatment. Many women also find it helpful to talk with their doctor or nurse about sexual problems they may have during treatment. Learning about these issues will help you make decisions that are best for you.

Treatments That May Cause Sexual and Fertility Problems

  • Some types of chemotherapy may cause symptoms of early menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irregular or no periods, and feeling irritable) or lead to vaginal infections. It may also cause temporary or permanent infertility.
  • Hormone therapy can stop or slow the growth of certain cancers, such as breast cancer. However, lower hormone levels can cause problems (hot flashes, vaginal discharge or pain, and trouble reaching orgasm). These problems are more likely in women over the age of 45.
  • Radiation therapy to the pelvic area (vagina, uterus, or ovaries) can cause:
    • infertility
    • symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and no periods)
    • pain or discomfort during sex
    • increased risk of birth defects; use a method of birth control to avoid pregnancy
    • vaginal stenosis (less elastic, narrow, shorter vagina)
    • vaginal itching, burning, or dryness
    • vaginal atrophy (weak vaginal muscles and thin vaginal wall)
  • Surgery for cancers of the uterus, bladder, vulvar, endometrium, cervix, or ovaries may cause sexual and infertility-related side effects, depending on the size and location of the tumor.
  • Other side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as fatigue and anxiety, can also lower your interest in sexual activity.

What to Expect

Before starting treatment talk with your health care team to learn what to expect, based on the type of treatment you will be receiving. Get answers to questions about:

  • Infertility. Ask if treatment could lower your fertility or make you infertile. If you would like to have children after treatment, talk with your doctor or nurse before you start treatment. Learn ahead of time about options such as embryo banking, ovarian tissue banking, ovarian transposition, and clinical trials for egg banking. Talk with your doctor or a fertility specialist to learn more about these procedures and others that may be available through a clinical trial.
  • Pregnancy. It is important to prevent pregnancy during treatment and for some time after treatment. Ask your doctor or nurse about different methods of birth control, to choose one that may be best for you and your partner.
  • Sexual activity. Ask your doctor or nurse if it is okay for you to be sexually active during your treatment period. Most women can ne sexually active, but you will want to confirm this with your health care team.

Talking With Your Health Care Team

Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions. Consider adding these questions to your list:

Sexual and Sexuality-Related Questions

  • What problems or changes might I have during treatment?
  • How long might these problems last? Will any be permanent?
  • Is there treatment for these problems?
  • Would you give me the name of a specialist that I could meet with?
  • Is there a support group for women that you would recommend?

Fertility-Related Questions

  • Will my fertility be affected by the treatment I receive?
  • What are all of my options now if I would like to have children in the future?
  • Could you give me the name of a fertility specialist who I can talk with to learn more?
  • After treatment, how long should I use birth control?

 

Listen to tips on how to manage changes in sexuality and fertility caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy.
(Type: MP3 | Time: 3:55 | Size: 3.7MB)