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Sex life

Your sex life might change after having surgery for bladder cancer. This depends on the type of surgery you have.

Having a stoma can also affect the way you feel about yourself and how you feel about having sex. 

Men

During surgery to remove your bladder (cystectomy), the surgeon also removes your prostate gland. This is because bladder cancer can often come back in the prostate.

Having surgery to remove your prostate means you will not be able to ejaculate. So your orgasms will be dry.

This operation can also damage the nerves that control your erections. So you may not be able to get an erection anymore.

There are some options to help you get an erection. You might:

  • use drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra) or avanafil (Stendra)
  • have cream
  • have injections or pellets that go into the penis 
  • use a vacuum pump that draws blood into the penis to stiffen it, and give a normal erection
  • penile implants

Your doctor can tell you more about these options and if they are suitable for you.

During surgery your surgeon might be able to avoid damaging the nerves that control your erections. This is called nerve sparing surgery. You still may need medicines to help you get an erection.

Women

After surgery to remove your bladder sex may feel different. This is because surgery can damage nerves in the area. You may also have vaginal dryness. Your doctor can help by telling you about vaginal gels and creams you can use.

Surgery for bladder cancer can narrow or shorten your vagina. Talk to your surgeon about this before the operation. They can try to change your vagina as little as possible. You might also be able to use dilators afterwards to stretch your vagina and keep it open.

Dilators are plastic, cone shaped objects. They come in various sizes and you use them every day, for a few minutes.

Photograph of a dilator

You start by using the one that goes in most easily first. Over a few weeks, you gradually use larger sizes to stretch your vagina. Sex will do this too, but you might not feel like having sex soon after your operation.

Surgery can also cause early menopause because the surgeon might remove your ovaries. You might get hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and vaginal creams with hormones in to help with this. Some women may just have the cream. Your doctor can talk through what might be best for you.

Body image 

Having a stoma can affect your relationships. It’s likely you’ll feel more self conscious and lack confidence about what your body looks like after surgery. You may worry about being intimate with your partner or a future partner. It may be that you’re also worried about how you would tell a new partner.

There are many things to think about, here are a few tips that may help:

  • if you’re in a relationship your partner might need a bit of time to get used to what your stoma looks like
  • be open with your partner or future partner about what’s worrying you
  • join a support group to help meet other people with stoma's - they’ll have experience that may help you overcome some of your worries
  • tell your doctor and nurse, they may be able to help
  • it might help to find new underwear or clothes that help you feel more attractive – there are some websites that sell underwear and clothing for people who have had bladder surgery

After radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for bladder cancer can cause problems with sex.

Men

Some men can't get an erection after having radiotherapy to the bladder. Or they might have erections that aren't as strong as they used to be.

There are some options to help you get an erection. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you would like to try any of them. You can also ready about these in our surgery section above. 

Women

Some women have vaginal dryness after having radiotherapy. There are gels and creams that can help with this. Your specialist nurse can tell you about this.

You might also have shortening or narrowing of the vagina. Using vaginal dilators or having regular sex can help with this.

Radiotherapy can damage the ovaries, so they stop working. You might get given HRT or vaginal creams to help with this. Some women may only have the creams. Your doctor will talk through what is best for you. 

After chemotherapy

Chemotherapy into the bladder doesn't usually cause any long term problems with sex. But chemotherapy into your bloodstream, can make you feel tired and less interested in sex for a while.

Some chemotherapies may stop your ovaries working properly, so you may get early menopause. This can lower your sex drive and lead to vaginal dryness. Women might take HRT or use a vaginal cream to help with this. Or you may only have the creams. Your doctor will talk through what is best for you.  

Whilst your receiving your course of chemotherapy you’re advised to wear condoms during sex.

After BCG treatment

Treatment with BCG into the bladder does not usually cause any long term effects on your sex life.

However, you should not have sex for 24 hours after each treatment. During your course of treatment and for a week afterwards, you should wear a condom during sex

Get help

You'll probably find that talking things over with your partner can help. It will take time for both of you to come to terms with all that has happened to you. But sharing how you feel can help you to understand each other better.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. Your doctor or specialist nurse can put you in touch with a councillor or a sex therapist if you feel you would like this type of help. Or you can talk to a Cancer Research UK nurse. 

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
01 Jul 2019
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    S J Mason and others
    British Journal of Cancer, 2018. Volume 118, Issue 18, Pages 1518 - 1528

  • Sexual Consequences of Cancer Treatment. Management Pathway.
    London Cancer Alliance (LCA), March 2016

  • Sexual Dysfunction Following Cystectomy and Urinary Diversion
    R A Modh and others
    Nature Reviews Urology,2014. Volume 11, Issue 8, Pages 445 – 453

  • Health-related quality of life after urinary diversion. Which technique is better?
    A M Moeen and others
    Journal of the Egyptian National Cancer Institute, 2018. Volume 30. Issue 3, Pages 93 – 97

  • Man Cancer Sex
    A Katz
    Oncology Nursing Society, 2009.

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in. 

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