Sex and nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer and its treatment might affect your sex life. There are usually several reasons for this, including physical and emotional issues. Talking through any problems with your partner, GP, cancer treatment team, or counsellor may help.

Tiredness

The most likely symptom that can affect your sex life is tiredness or fatigue.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments both cause fatigue. It’s not uncommon for this fatigue to last for months after treatment.

You might also feel tired because your thyroid hormone levels are low. This can also cause a low mood and decreased interest in sex. Your doctor will check how your thyroid gland is working at your follow up appointments. They will also check if treatment has affected your pituitary gland, which is at the base of your brain. The pituitary gland releases hormones, such as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

Other side effects of treatment such as a dry or sore mouth, or having sticky thick saliva, can also mean that you lose interest in kissing or having sex.

Changes to the way you look

Surgery for nasopharyngeal cancer might change the way you look. Any changes in the way you look after surgery might make you feel less confident about sex.

Modern surgical techniques and reconstructive surgery mean that you are less likely to have much scarring. Unfortunately, if you do have scarring it can be distressing. It can affect the way you feel about yourself, and how you think others might see you.

If the cancer or surgery has affected your eyesight, you may need to rely on touch a great deal during intimate relationships.

If you have a feeding tube into your stomach during treatment this can also cause issues with body image. Once you are eating and drinking normally again, your doctor will remove the tube.

Talking about it

If your feelings about having sex change during or after your cancer treatment, it doesn’t mean that this will last forever. As you recover from treatment, you may find that your sex life returns to how it was before. But for some people, it can take time to rediscover their interest in sex.

Talking to your partner about your worries can help if you are able to. You can both gradually get used to your new situation and things will feel less awkward. A caring and loving partner can help to ease your concerns.

You might also find it helpful to talk to your doctor or nurse about how you are feeling. They might suggest that you and your partner have some counselling or see a sex therapist for further support.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Last reviewed: 
23 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
23 Feb 2024
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    L McDowell and others
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