Concerns for partners

It can be difficult watching someone you love go through treatment for cancer. Try to look after yourself – give yourself some time out and share your worries or concerns with somebody neutral, such as a counsellor or your doctor.

If you have been your partner’s primary carer, it can sometimes be hard to switch between the roles of carer and lover. You may find that changing the setting (e.g. going away for a night or two) can help you both relax and focus on things other than cancer.

Worrying about cancer and the way it may affect your life can interfere with your desire for sex, yet your partner may be craving physical contact. On the other hand, it may be that your partner seems to have lost interest in sex, and you may feel guilty or uncomfortable for even bringing up the topic for fear of placing pressure or appearing unsupportive. Over time, you both might get used to a relationship without intimacy or sex, assuming that this is the new way of living or “new normal”.

Learn more about:

Listen to our podcast on Sex and Cancer

Ways to communicate

Communicate openly – This will be more important than ever. It may help you avoid frustrations that can arise from misunderstandings.

If you and your partner have never talked much about sex before or you find it difficult to discuss your different needs without both becoming defensive, consider asking for help. A counsellor, sex therapist or psychologist can suggest ways to approach such conversations. They can help you talk about your sexual concerns and how the physical needs in the relationship can be met.

Try other forms of intimacy – sexual contact, touching, holding, hugging and massaging can help you feel close with your partner and show you love them and find them physically attractive. Physical contact that doesn’t lead to sex can still be comforting and often helps to take the pressure off both of you. Stroking their scars may show your partner that you have accepted the changes to their body. If you are finding the changes hard, try talking sensitively to your partner or to a counsellor.

Acknowledge your feelings – You may have had to face the possibility that your partner could die. As they have recovered, you may expect to feel relieved but instead feel emotionally low and drained of energy. Acknowledge that you and your partner have been through a difficult and confronting experience and allow yourselves time to adjust.

Look after yourself – Relationships are often challenged through a cancer experience. Take time to look after yourself. Although you don’t have cancer, you have also been affected. Try talking openly about changes to the relationship and how you can readjust your life around them.

For more on this, see Caring for someone with cancer and listen to our podcast on Cancer Affects the Carer Too.

     – Ian

Safety concerns for partners

  • Be assured that it is not possible for your partner to transmit cancer through intimate activities such as kissing or intercourse.
  • Sexual activity will not make cancer spread, nor will it make the cancer come back.
  • Chemotherapy drugs may stay in your partner’s body fluids for some days. Using condoms or other barrier methods, if having any type of sex after treatment, can protect you from any potential risk. Your treatment team can give you more details about how long you need to use protection.
  • Some chemotherapy drugs can be passed into body fluids such as saliva. Ask your treatment team whether you need to avoid open-mouth kissing and for how long.
  • It will usually be safe to have sex after radiation therapy. If your partner is having external radiation therapy, they will not be radioactive once they return home. If your partner is having internal radiation therapy, you may need to take some precautions, such as avoiding sexual contact or using condoms or other barrier methods for a certain period of time. Your treatment team will be able to advise you.
  • If your partner is receiving immunotherapy for bladder cancer (Bacillus Calmette- Guérin, or BCG), ask their treatment team what precautions you need to take. You will usually have to avoid sex for 48 hours after each treatment, and then use condoms or other barrier methods during the rest of the treatment cycle and for six weeks after the final treatment.
  • Speak to the health care team if you need more information.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in May 2019
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Caring for someone with cancer
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Life after cancer treatment
Webinars, exercise and nutrition, sexuality programs, and back-to-work support

Cancer information

Caring for someone with cancer
Information for carers, including common reactions of carers and how relationships change

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends