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Your sex life and cervical cancer

Find out how cervical cancer treatment may affect your sex life.

Early menopause and cervical cancer treatment

Treatment for cervical cancer can have an effect on your sex life. If you have not yet had your menopause you may find that your treatment brings on an early menopause. This will happen if you have:

  • internal or external radiotherapy
  • surgery to remove your womb and ovaries (total hysterectomy)

Your surgeon may suggest leaving your ovaries behind if you have not had your menopause, but that is not always possible. Having your ovaries removed will cause an immediate menopause.

Radiotherapy will cause early menopause because it stops your ovaries from working. It is your ovaries that produce your sex hormones. They stop producing these hormones at the natural menopause.

In some cases it may be possible to move your ovaries out of the area where you are having radiotherapy (the radiotherapy field). Your surgeon can do this with keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. This may help prevent you from going through an early menopause. Your doctor will discuss if this is an option for you.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a menopause that is related to cancer treatment are no different to those of a natural menopause, but they can be more intense if it comes on suddenly. You may have:

  • hot flushes and sweating
  • vaginal dryness
  • low mood or depression
  • loss of confidence and self esteem
  • tiredness
  • thinning bones
  • loss of interest in sex

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

There is no reason why you shouldn't take HRT if you want to, if your treatment causes an early menopause. HRT does not affect cervical cancer one way or the other and most doctors are happy to prescribe it.

HRT or hormone replacement therapy means taking a tablet, wearing a skin patch or having an implant every few months. This provides you with the female sex hormones that you are no longer producing naturally from your ovaries. HRT can usually help with all the symptoms of menopause. But if you've had radiotherapy, it is unlikely to help with vaginal dryness.

Other effects of radiotherapy

The radiotherapy that you have for cervical cancer is quite intensive. It can cause a number of side effects. These are:

  • fibrosis and narrowing of the vagina
  • vaginal dryness
  • testing reusable
  • pain when having sex
  • delicate skin inside the vagina
  • adding text to test

Common fears about sex and cancer

You may feel nervous about having sex after you have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, or have had treatment. If you want to, you can resume your normal sex life within a few weeks of finishing radiotherapy or having surgery. It is a good idea to have those few weeks to help your body heal. But after that it is perfectly safe. Sex cannot make your cancer worse. Or increase the risk of it coming back.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Cervical cancer is not infectious. Your partner cannot catch it from you. This can be confusing because cervical cancer is linked to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).  And you can pass this virus on to your partner.

HPV can increase your risk of developing cancer. It is important to remember not everyone who has the virus develops cancer.

Chemotherapy

If you are having chemotherapy, it may be a good idea if your partner uses a condom. This is just a precaution. There is no known risk. But doctors don't know enough yet about whether any of the drugs come through in the cervical or vaginal mucus. Or about whether that can have any effect on your partner.

Starting again

If you feel nervous about starting your sex life again, try not to worry. You probably just need more time to come to terms with all that has happened to you. If you are still worried, anxious or depressed, you are not likely to feel like having sex. Give yourself more time. And talk things over with your partner. Together you should be able to work out what is best for you both.

There are sex therapists you can see if you think that is necessary. Talk to your GP who will be able to put you in touch with someone. But for most people, it just takes a little time.

Last reviewed: 
10 Jun 2014
  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2010

  • Cervical cancer
    P Martin-Hirsch P and N Wood
    Clinical Evidence, 2011; July 27;818

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