- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Managing radiation therapy side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and fertility issues
Sexuality, intimacy and fertility issues
Radiation therapy can affect your sexuality and fertility in emotional and physical ways. These changes are common. Some changes may be only temporary while others may be permanent.
Learn more about:
- Changes in sexuality
- Using contraception
- Changes in fertility
- Effects on fertility and sexual function
You may notice a lack of interest in sex or a loss of desire (libido). Or you may feel too tired or sick to want to be intimate. Some people may feel less sexually attractive to their partner because of changes to their body. All of these feelings are quite common. Radiation therapy can also make sexual intercourse uncomfortable, depending on where the radiation therapy is given. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage side effects that change your sex life.
A woman’s eggs (ova) and a man’s sperm can be affected by very small amounts of radiation when having radiation therapy to any part of the body. Depending on the type of treatment you have, your doctor may talk to you about using a barrier method of contraception (such as a condom or female condom). If pregnancy is possible, your doctor will advise you to avoid pregnancy by using contraception during radiation therapy and for at least six months after you have finished treatment. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if pregnancy occurs.
Radiation therapy to the pelvis, abdomen and sexual organs can temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children (fertility). Radiation therapy to the brain can affect the pituitary gland, which controls the hormones the body needs to produce eggs or sperm.
If infertility is a potential side effect, your radiation oncologist will discuss it with you before treatment starts. Let them know if you think you may want to have children in future. Ask what can be done to reduce the chance of problems and whether you should see a fertility specialist beforehand. Sometimes, however, it is not possible to properly treat the cancer and maintain fertility.
Many people experience a sense of loss when they learn they may no longer be able to have children. If you have a partner, talk to them about your feelings. Talking to a counsellor may also help.
|Radiation therapy can cause the skin or internal tissue in the treatment area to become less stretchy and harden. This is known as fibrosis. It can occur weeks or months after treatment and have a range of impacts, such as pain, lack of flexibility and narrowing of passages (such as the vagina or rectum). Let your treatment team know if you start experiencing any new pain or stiffness, as early treatment can help.|
Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
Here we aim to help you understand and deal with the ways cancer and its treatment may affect your sexuality.