Men's sex life and fertility after radiotherapy
This page tells you about how radiotherapy can affect a man's sex life and fertility. There is information about
It is common for men having radiotherapy to have some problems with sex. You may have a
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 may take some time to recover when the treatment has ended.
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 internal radiotherapy for prostate cancer (brachytherapy) it is best to use condoms during intercourse for the first month after treatment. This is in case a radiotherapy seed gets misplaced and is present in the semen, but this is very rare.
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 are having problems after radiotherapy. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to try medicines. There is detailed information about sex and cancer for men (and dealing with erection problems) in the sex, sexuality and cancer section. And there are books and booklets about sex and cancer, some of which are free.
Talking about sexual difficulties
It can help to talk openly with your partner about your problems. You can also ask the radiotherapy staff about any problems you have. Although you may 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.
Radiotherapy usually does not 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. But if you have radiotherapy to the pelvic area (lower tummy) you will be advised to use effective contraception for some time after that treatment. Some doctors recommend for 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) will discuss this risk with you. You may be asked 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.
If your radiotherapy treatment is likely to cause infertility, you may 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. We have information about sperm collection and storage, which explains the process and costs.
If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look at our cancer information organisations page for people who can help. To find out more about counselling look in the counselling section.
There is also detailed information about the side effects of radiotherapy.
You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.
Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.
If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.
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