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Desire and feelings associated with intimacy may change while undergoing cancer treatment. Some treatments (e.g., hormonal treatments) may alter sexual desire, causing loss of libido. In addition, the physical effects of treatments, including nausea and fatigue, may leave little energy for sexual relationships. Some individuals may experience sexual dysfunction or infertility as a result of cancer and its treatment.
Sexuality Issues for Women
Chemotherapy and hormone therapy may cause vaginal dryness. Extra lubrication may make intercourse more comfortable. A water-based gel that has no perfumes or coloring added, such as KY jelly, is an option. It may be more comfortable to warm the tube of gel in warm water prior to use. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, should be avoided.
Chemotherapy treatments also increase the risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection. You may experience a discharge, with itchiness and a burning sensation, on urination. You should report this to your doctor, as you (and perhaps your partner) will likely need treatment with a prescription cream. Women should avoid using commercial douches, which can irritate the vagina.
Sexuality Issues for Men
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause sterility in men. If you would like to have children in the future, sperm banking before chemotherapy treatments may be an option. Your doctor may also recommend that you wear a condom for sexual intercourse occurring within 48 hours after each chemotherapy treatment. Without a condom, your partner may experience burning or irritation in her vagina. Ask your doctor for additional information.
Some cancer surgeries, such as for prostate, bladder, and colon cancers, can also interfere with erections by damaging nerves or blood vessels. This may result in impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED). Nerve-sparing methods may be used to spare the nerve bundles during these surgeries. Radiation therapy to the pelvis can also cause problems with erections, particularly with the higher the total dose of radiation and the greater the area of the pelvis irradiated.
Chemotherapy can effect the development of an unborn baby. Therefore, if there is a chance that you or your partner may become pregnant, it is important to use birth control measures while on chemotherapy and for a few months after treatment is completed. The use of oral contraceptives (the pill) is not recommended for women with certain types of cancer. Ask your doctor for further information.
Because some chemotherapy drugs cause irregular periods, it is difficult to predict the time of ovulation for using the Rhythm Method. Barrier methods such as diaphragms and condoms, together with spermicidal gel/foam, are most appropriate.