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Sex and chemotherapy for women

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This page tells you about how chemotherapy can affect women's sexuality. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Some women have normal sex lives during treatment. Others find that their sex lives change while they are having treatment, but go back to normal once their chemotherapy has finished.

Chemotherapy can make you feel tired and cause sickness and other side effects. This may make you less interested in sex for a while.

Contraception

Always use reliable contraception during your treatment. It is not advisable to become pregnant, as the drugs could harm the baby. Women who have or have had breast cancer are usually advised not to take the pill because the cancer may be affected by the hormones it contains.

Using condoms protects your partner from the possible risk that chemicals from the chemotherapy drugs could be in your vaginal fluids.

Early menopause

Chemotherapy does not usually have a permanent effect on your sex life. But sometimes chemotherapy can cause an early menopause. Symptoms from your menopause, such as vaginal dryness, may affect your sex life for a while.

There are treatments to help relieve the symptoms of the menopause. Depending on the type of cancer you have this may include hormone replacement therapy. If you have menopausal symptoms talk to your doctor about possible treatments. You can also look at our hormone symptoms section which has information about menopausal symptoms and ways of managing them.

You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Sex and Chemotherapy section.

 

Chemotherapy and sex for women

Some women lead normal sex lives during treatment. Others find that their sex lives change while they are having treatment, but go back to normal once their chemotherapy has finished. Some women have an early menopause, which may affect sex life after treatment.

General side effects of chemotherapy include tiredness (fatigue) and feeling sick (nausea). These changes may make you feel less interested in sex for a while.

 

Contraception

Always use reliable contraception during your treatment. It is not advisable to become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby. Women who have or have had breast cancer are usually advised not to take the pill because the cancer may be affected by the hormones it contains.

Using condoms protects your partner from the possible risk that chemicals from the chemotherapy drugs could be in your vaginal fluids. It has been suggested that chemotherapy can get into vaginal fluids, but as the doctors don’t know for sure, they advise using a condom during a course of chemotherapy treatment and for a week or so afterwards.

 

 

Early menopause

Chemotherapy does not usually have a permanent effect on your sex life. But sometimes chemotherapy can cause an early menopause. Symptoms from your menopause may affect your sex life for a while.

 

Symptoms of early menopause

This is a very brief summary of the possible effects of early menopause. Most women have some symptoms with the menopause. But the symptoms vary between women. You may have

  • Hot flushes
  • A dry vagina
  • Less interest in sex
  • Dry skin
  • Mood swings and feeling low
  • Loss of energy

There is more detailed information about early menopause and the symptoms it can cause in our section about hormone symptoms.

 

Relieving symptoms of early menopause

Often, after your chemotherapy has finished your doctor can prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to prevent the symptoms. The HRT doesn't prevent the menopause, but it can relieve symptoms. Depending on the type of cancer you have had, your specialist may advise you not to take HRT. But, many women are able to take HRT for up to 5 years.

If your vagina is dry and sex is uncomfortable, your doctor could prescribe a cream or ointment for you. Or you can use a lubricant to moisten your vagina. You can get these from your chemist without a prescription. There are a variety of lubricants available, so if you do not get on with one product, there are others you can try. Some products only need to be used use a few times a week instead of daily and are available from your chemist. Olive oil has been suggested as a useful lubricant, but it is thought that it may damage condom material. So it is important to take advice from your pharmacist or clinical nurse specialist. There is more information about hormone symptoms in the coping physically section.

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Updated: 18 April 2013