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Sex is normally an enjoyable part of life, but there are issues that must be considered in patients with cancer and for those undergoing cancer therapy.
Like anything that affects health and well-being, patients should speak to a care team member with questions.
Sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex and masturbation, during cancer is generally considered safe. However, there is a risk of bleeding and infection due to certain cancers and treatments. In addition, the patient’s sexual partner could be exposed to chemotherapy drugs if the patient has sex with a partner while the drugs are still active.
Patients should take certain precautions before having sex during cancer treatment:
Using a condom or other form of barrier protection is especially important for people with cancer. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a risk for anyone who has unprotected sex.
People having sex while receiving treatment should use always use barrier protection such as latex condoms with nonoxyl-9 spermicide. Using condoms:
Some people experience no problems having sex during and after cancer treatment. For others, feelings and changes experienced during cancer can make it difficult to enjoy sexual intimacy. These include:
Many factors can affect feelings during sex. These emotions can cause a person to want to have sex less frequently or to have difficulty having an orgasm or maintaining an erection. These feelings are all normal.
Ways to resolve these feelings include:
Pediatric cancer patients are often uncomfortable talking to their care team about sexual issues. They may not want their parents to find out. The conversation will most likely be kept confidential between the provider and patient. Some states give providers the option to inform parents their child is seeking services related to sexual health care, so patients should be clear about their wishes for the conversation to remain private.
Unprotected sex could result in pregnancy during cancer treatment. If a pregnancy does occur, doctors may stop therapy or change the treatment plan. Changes may affect how well the cancer responds to treatment.
It is strongly recommended to wait until after treatment to have a baby and always use protection during sex. The care team can advise patients on how long to wait to try to have children.
All sexually active women should regularly see a gynecologist (a doctor who specializes in female reproductive health.) But each patient reacts differently to treatment. For some survivors, gynecologists may suggest women stop taking medicine or birth control for a short time to resume regular periods. Women who have not had a menstrual period 6 months after treatment should call their gynecologist or talk to their care team. Barrier protection should always be used.
Some childhood cancer survivors may experience problems with their reproductive health such as difficulties with menstrual periods, inability to conceive, low sperm counts, ovarian insufficiency resulting in low estrogen, or testosterone deficiency because of certain treatments they received. The ability to have children is a natural concern for patients and families.
Reviewed: June 2018