Men's sex life and fertility after radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Men's sex life and fertility after radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about how radiotherapy can affect a man's sex life and fertility. There is information about


Possible problems with sex

It is common for men having radiotherapy to have some problems with sex. You may have a

  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Sharp pain when you ejaculate
  • Problem getting an erection

Loss of interest in sex

Losing interest in sex for a while can be caused by worries about your illness or the future. Or it may be because the treatment makes you too tired for sex. This might take you some time to recover from when the treatment has ended.

Sharp pain when you ejaculate

During and for a short time after radiotherapy treatment to the abdomen (tummy), you may have a sharp pain when you ejaculate. This is because the radiotherapy can irritate the tube that leads along the penis from the bladder (the urethra). The pain should ease off a few weeks after the treatment ends.

If you are having external radiotherapy treatment it is fine to have intercourse if you want to. If you have had a certain type of internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy), where radioactive seeds are inserted into the prostate, you need to use condoms during intercourse. This is just for the first month after treatment. This is in case a radiotherapy seed gets misplaced and comes out in the semen but this is very unlikely to happen.

Problem getting an erection

Radiotherapy to your pelvic area may cause temporary or permanent erection problems by affecting the nerves in that area. Some medicines or medical devices can help you to get an erection if you have problems after radiotherapy. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to try medicines.


Talking about sexual difficulties

It helps to talk openly with your partner about your problems. You can also ask the radiotherapy staff about any problems you have. Although you might feel embarrassed to talk about such personal issues, the staff are used to discussing them. They can help you find ways of coping and can refer you to specialists in sexual problems if needed.


Your fertility after radiotherapy

Radiotherapy usually doesn't affect your ability to father children. Many healthy babies have been born to parents who have had radiotherapy. Research suggests that the risk of having an abnormal baby is not greater if you have had radiotherapy treatment.

If you have radiotherapy to the pelvic area (lower tummy) you will be advised to use effective contraception for some time after treatment. Some doctors recommend 6 months and others for up to 2 years. This is because sperm produced after treatment may still be fertile but could be damaged. This could cause abnormalities in a child conceived soon after pelvic radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy to both testes is rarely used in cancer treatment but can lead to temporary or permanent sterility (inability to father children). Before you have such radiotherapy, your radiotherapy specialist (clinical oncologist) discusses this risk with you. They ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the treatment and understand the risks.

This can be a very worrying time for you, especially if you are a young man planning to have children. Talk to your specialist about the possibility of losing your fertility. If you have a partner, ask them to join in the discussion. It gives you both a chance to talk about your fears and worries.


Sperm banking

If your radiotherapy treatment is likely to cause infertility, you might want to store some of your sperm in a sperm bank. If this is possible you will need to give several sperm samples over a few weeks. The samples are frozen and stored. Sperm banking is not always available on the NHS and there may be a charge for it.

If you and your partner later want a baby, the samples are thawed and used to inseminate your partner. The pregnancy can carry on normally.

It is important to talk to your doctor about the risk of infertility before starting radiotherapy treatment so that you can make decisions about whether to use a sperm bank.


More information about radiotherapy

Find out about

Side effects of radiotherapy

Sex and cancer for men

Information about sperm collection and storage

Cancer information organisations


For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 13 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 14 March 2016