Cancer drugs can cause changes to your sex life and fertility. But there might be ways to deal with some of the side effects.
How cancer drugs can affect your sex life and fertility
Doctors use many different types of drugs to treat cancer. Some drugs can cause changes to your sex life. Some might stop you from being able to become pregnant in the future. This is called infertility.
Not being able to have a child in future can be particularly difficult to cope with if you were planning to do so. Worries about the effect of a cancer drug on your sex life can affect your quality of life.
For at least the first two years after you had finished treatment, doctors can't say for sure whether you will be infertile or not. This is because the sex organs might not work for a while.
You should use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, during and after treatment. Traces of some cancer drugs can be present in bodily fluids for up to 7 days after treatment. So, it is important that you use a barrier method to protect your partner from traces of cancer drugs in your bodily fluids and not just to prevent pregnancy. You should use it for all kinds of sex, including oral, vaginal or anal sex.
Speak to your doctor or specialist nurse for more information on your type of drug and what to do.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes to
- the type of drug, for example, some alkylating drugs like cyclophosphamide are more likely to cause infertility
- the total amount of the drug you have had over time (cumulative dose)
Some hormone therapies for cancer interfere with:
- the menstrual cycle in women
- the production of sperm in men
This will change fertility. Fertility usually comes back once you have finished treatment. There is some risk that long-term use can cause permanent changes in men.
There is not enough research yet to know how the following treatments can cause changes to fertility:
- targeted cancer drugs
It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while taking any type of cancer drug. The drugs may harm a baby developing in the womb.
Many other factors might also play a role in fertility after cancer treatment. These are:
- your type and stage of cancer
- whether you had radiotherapy or surgery to your sexual organs
- your age
- your sex
- genetic factors
- whether you have an underactive thyroid after cancer treatment
Women’s sex lives and fertility
Cancer drugs can lower some women’s sex drive for a while. This might be due to:
- hormone changes
- other side effects
Your sex drive will usually return to normal sometime after the treatment ends.
Some chemotherapy drugs can lower the amount of hormones your ovaries make. This may cause early menopause for some women.
Some hormone therapies can also cause early menopause. You might get menopausal symptoms even if you have already had your menopause.
Targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates do not seem to cause early menopause or affect your sex life.
Some types of chemotherapy can cause early menopause. This can stop you from being able to become pregnant in the future. Talk to your doctor about this before your treatment.
It is sometimes possible to store eggs or embryos before treatment.
There is not enough research yet to know how targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates affect fertility.
Hormone therapies do not usually cause permanent infertility.
Men’s sex lives and fertility
Some cancer drugs can lower some men’s sex drive for a while due to tiredness or other side effects. Your sex drive will usually return to normal after the treatment ends.
Some types of chemotherapy reduce the amount of male hormones (testosterone) made by the testes. This also usually goes back to normal sometime after the treatment ends.
Some men with prostate cancer have treatment with hormone therapies to lower testosterone levels. Hormone therapies can reduce your sex drive. You might not be able to get or keep an erection. You may also get breast swelling and tenderness.
Targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates do not seem to cause changes to your sex life.
Some types of chemotherapy can stop you from being able to father a child in the future. Talk to your doctor about this. It is sometimes possible to collect and store sperm before treatment.
There is not enough research yet to know how targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies, and bisphosphonates can cause changes to fertility.
Hormone therapies do not usually cause permanent infertility. When used long-term, there is some risk that this may happen.
Contact our cancer information nurses for more information on sex and fertility after cancer drug treatment on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.