Many cancer treatments and some types of cancer can cause sexual and fertility-related side effects. Whether you have these problems can depend on the type of treatments you receive, your age at time of treatment, and how long it has been since you had treatment. Many men find it helpful to talk with their doctor or nurse about sexual problems they may have during treatment. Learning about these issues will help you make decisions that are best for you.
Sex and sexuality are important parts of everyday life. You can get help if you are having sexual problems after cancer treatment.
Up to 85% of men treated for prostate cancer experience sexual problems.
Cancer Treatments and Sexuality
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy to the pelvic area (anus, bladder, penis, or prostate), and surgery for penile, rectal, prostate, testicular, and other pelvic cancers may cause sexual side effects. Other side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as fatigue and anxiety, also can lower your interest in sexual activity. For more information:
A variety of cancer treatments can cause problems affecting a man’s sexuality.
- Visit the American Cancer Society’s website for details on sexual side effects linked to certain cancers and their treatment, including:
- Urostomy, colostomy, or ileostomy—surgeries that create an opening in the body to help it function
- Prostate cancer treatment
- Treatment that involves surgically removing (amputating) a limb
- Loss of one or both testicles
- Penile shrinkage (when a man’s penis becomes shorter than before)
- Amputating (removing) part or all of the penis
- Find several resources on sexuality and reproductive issues affecting cancer patients available from the National Cancer Institute.
Dealing with Sexual Problems
Many men have concerns about their sexual health and abilities during and after treatment. It is difficult to know ahead of time whether you’ll have sexual problems after your cancer treatment.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Talk with your health care providers before you start treatment to learn what to expect based on the type of treatment you will be receiving. Get answers to questions about:
- Sexual activity
- Birth control
- Condom use
Sex-related questions you might want to talk to your doctor about during cancer treatment could include the following:
- What problems or changes might I have during or after treatment?
- How long might these problems last? Will any be permanent?
- How can these problems be treated or managed?
- Could you give me the name of a specialist who I can talk with to learn more?
- What precautions do I need to take during treatment? For example, do I need to use a condom?
- Is there a support group for men that you would recommend for me?
Get Professional Help for Sexual Problems
Consider seeking help from a medical or sexual health professional for advice on sex-related questions during and after treatment. Your doctor may be able to help you or could refer you to a special program or a specialist, such as:
- Sexual rehabilitation programs in cancer centers
- Sexual medicine clinics or sexual health clinics
- Sex therapists
- Other kinds of counseling, from a psychologist or social worker
- Other medical specialists, including a urologist with a specialty in sexual medicine
Talk to Your Partner
Good communication is important to maintain a healthy sexual relationship. The American Cancer Society has information on sexuality and cancer to help you talk with your partner.
Tips for Dealing with Sex and Cancer
Check out the online guide “Sexuality for the Man with Cancer” for an overview of some of the more common changes and what you can do to manage them. You can also follow the tips below for navigating sexual interaction during and after cancer treatment.
Practice Safer Sex
- Check with your doctor about precautions if you are getting chemotherapy because it can be present in semen. Your doctor may advise you to use condoms while you are getting chemotherapy and for about 2 weeks afterward. Your doctor may also recommend additional birth control measures.
- You may need to take precautions if you get certain types of radiation treatment. For example, if you are having “seed implants” (brachytherapy) for prostate cancer, ask your doctor about safety precautions to avoid exposing your partner to radiation.
- Unless you are sure that neither you nor your sexual partner has any disease, and that you are both careful to avoid infection, you should always practice safer sex.
- Empty your bladder a few minutes after sex to try to prevent urinary tract infections.
When Not to Have Sex
Ask your doctor if sexual activity could be a problem at any time during or after your cancer treatment. Here are some guidelines:
- Sex after surgery can cause bleeding, strain the incision (cut), or increase your chance of infection.
- Stop having sex if you are bleeding in the genital area or urinary tract (you may see blood in your urine).
- Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to get infections. Stop having sex if you’re hospitalized for weak immunity.
- If you see any sores, bumps, or warts on your partner’s genitals, or any unusual fluids or discharge, ask your partner about it and ask whether it’s safe to have sex.
Sex During Advanced Cancer
Even if your cancer is advanced and sexual intercourse might be difficult, you may still need and want affection and physical closeness. Everyone can have sexual feelings, even in times of very poor health.
For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.
Talk to Family and Friends
Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.
Find Peer Support
Talk About Your Concerns
Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.
Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online
The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.
NCI Cancer Information Service
Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.
The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.
ACS National Cancer Information Center
Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.
Learn More About Sexual Problems
The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you understand and cope with sexual problems, including fertility and sexual side effects in men with cancer and sexual and fertility problems (men).