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Coping With Sexual Problems Related to Chemotherapy
What You Can Do
- Ask your doctor if the chemotherapy will likely affect your ability to father a child. If so, ask if the effects be temporary or permanent.
- Before starting treatment, talk to your doctor about the possibility of sperm banking if infertility may be a problem. Banking is a procedure that freezes sperm for future use.
- Use birth control with your partner during treatment. Ask your doctor how long you need to use birth control.
- Ask if you should use a condom during sexual intercourse after chemotherapy, since some of the chemotherapy may end up in the sperm.
Effects on the Ovaries
- Infertility —Damage to the ovaries may result in infertility, the inability to become pregnant. The infertility can be either temporary or permanent. Women of child-bearing potential who wish to preserve their ability to become pregnant have an option of embryo cryopreservation. A referral to a fertility expert will be needed in such situations.
- Ovarian failure —A woman's age and the drugs and dosages used will determine whether she experiences an ovarian failure while on chemotherapy. Chemotherapy-induced amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) is a well-recognized side effect of chemotherapy. Some women develop complete and permanent ovarian failure ( menopause ) during chemotherapy. Other women may stop menstruating during therapy, but then later (months to years) the ovarian function, menstrual cycles, and fertility may return. Chemotherapy may also cause menopause-like symptoms such as hot flashes and dry vaginal tissues. These tissue changes can make intercourse uncomfortable and can make a woman more prone to bladder and/or vaginal infections. Any infection should be treated right away.
Help for Hot Flashes
- Dress in layers—to help you remain comfortable and avoid feeling overheated
- Exercise—to increase energy level, reduce the risk of depression, and improve bone health
- Try meditation or other relaxation methods—to improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and enhance your overall mood
Relieving Vaginal Symptoms and Preventing Infection
- Use a water-based vaginal lubricant at the time of intercourse.
- There are products that can be used to stop vaginal dryness. Ask your doctor about vaginal gels that can be applied to the vagina.
- Avoid using petroleum jelly, which is difficult for the body to get rid of. It also increases the risk of a yeast infection.
- Wear cotton underwear and pantyhose with a ventilated cotton lining.
- Avoid wearing tight pants or shorts.
- Ask your doctor about prescribing a vaginal cream or suppository to reduce the chances of infection.
Feelings About Sexuality
- Worries about changes in appearance.
- Anxiety about health, family, or finances.
- Side effects of treatment, including fatigue and hormonal changes.
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Dolmans MM, Demylle D, Martinez-Madrid B, Donnez J. Efficacy of in vitro fertilization after chemotherapy. Fertil Steril. 2005; 83:897.
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National Cancer Institute. Chemotherapy and you: support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Updated June 2011. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Premature ovarian failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2014. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Sex and men with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003232-pdf.pdf. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Sex and women with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003229-pdf.pdf. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Veeck LL, Bodine R, Clarke RN, et al. High pregnancy rates can be achieved after freezing and thawing human blastocysts. Fertil Steril. 2004; 82:1418.
Walshe JM, Denduluri N, Swain SM. Amenorrhea in premenopausal women after adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2006; 24:5769.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2014
- Update Date: 02/05/2014