Cancer drugs and your sex life

Woman comforting her husband

Cancer drugs save lives, but they also sometimes cause side effects for patients, one of which may be libido and fertility. If you or your partner is undergoing treatment, here's what you need to know.

Effects of cancer drugs
There are many types of medication used to treat cancer, from chemotherapy to hormone or biological therapies, and some may affect your sex life or fertility directly, while in others, the fatigue may affect the libido.

Some chemotherapy treatments, for example, cause infertility, which may be temporary or permanent depending on your particular treatment. For both genders, trying for a baby whilst on cancer medication is not advised, as the drugs may harm a baby while it is still in the womb, and it is wise to use a condom if having sex during and for a couple of weeks after treatment to protect your partner from chemicals that may be present in your system.

For women
Tiredness, other side effects and changes to the levels of hormones caused by cancer drugs may result in a reduced sex drive for women undergoing treatment, though in most cases the libido returns when the treatment ends.

In some cases chemotherapy can lead to the ovaries making lower levels of hormones, which may sometimes cause an early menopause. Though this cannot be prevented, hormone replacement therapy may help to alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings and a lack of energy. It is worth speaking to your doctor about the possibility of your treatment causing infertility, as it may be possible to store eggs before the course begins.

For men
Just as the effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can cause women to lose interest in sex, the same is true for men, though sex drive typically returns to normal soon after the treatment has finished.

Some chemotherapy drugs reduce the amount of testosterone made but again, this usually goes back to normal after treatment. Those being treated for prostate cancer may be treated with hormone therapies, and since these lower testosterone levels, they can cause problems getting or keeping an erection, and lower the libido.

As with women, some chemotherapy treatments cause infertility, so speak to your doctor about the risks, as it may be possible to store sperm if you wish to have a family in the future.

Both men and women can react differently to cancer treatments, either because the side effects cause them to temporarily lose interest in sex, or because some drugs cause physical changes to the sexual organs that can change how you feel about or during sex.

If you are worried about the effects, speak to your specialist doctor or nurses, who may be able to help answer your questions and cope with issues of libido and fertility.

Has cancer treatment affected your sex life or fertility? How did you cope and what advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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