Cancer & Male Sexual Health

Cancer itself and treatments for cancer can cause a variety of side effects, including some related to sexuality and intimacy. Treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation can have a direct, and sometimes long-lasting, impact on sexual function and fertility. They can affect how you feel physically, emotionally, and how you feel about your body image. Sexuality and intimacy affects your quality of life. If you are experiencing side effects since your diagnosis or treatment, it is important to seek help. Let your health care team know about any side effects you experience.

Common Concerns

Several physical side effects you may experience during and after your cancer treatment include low energy, pain during sex, erectile dysfunction (trouble getting or keeping an erection), and difficulty with ejaculation (such as premature ejaculation, dry orgasm, or passing urine during orgasm).

There are also emotional side effects that can further impact sexual function, such as fear of recurrence, feeling sad, anxious, or angry, fear of intimacy or embarrassment, and concern about body image.

It is important to understand the ways cancer treatments can impact sexual health and what can be done to alleviate these issues.

Treatment Side Effects

Many problems that affect a man’s sexual activity during treatment are temporary and improve once treatment has ended. Other side effects may be long-term or may start after treatment.

Talk to your doctor about side effects you may have based on your treatment(s):

  • Surgery for penile, rectal, prostate, testicular, and other pelvic cancers (such as the bladder, colon, and rectum) may affect the nerves, making it difficult to get and keep an erection. Sometimes nerve-sparing surgery can be used to prevent these problems.
  • External-beam radiation therapy to the pelvis (such as to the anus, bladder, penis, or prostate) and brachytherapy (also called internal radiation therapy) can affect a man’s sexual function. If blood vessels or nerves are damaged, it may be difficult to get or keep an erection; this is called erectile dysfunction. If the prostate is damaged, you may have a dry orgasm.
  • Chemotherapy may lower your testosterone levels and libido during the treatment period. You will be advised to use a condom, because semen may contain traces of chemotherapy for a period of time after treatment. Chemotherapy does not usually affect your ability to have an erection.
  • Immunotherapy can impair fertility and cause primary and secondary hypogonadism, or when testes do not function properly. Immunotherapy can also lower the desire for sexual activities.
  • Hormone therapy can lower testosterone levels and decrease a man’s sexual drive. It may be difficult to get or keep an erection.
  • Medicines used to treat pain, some drugs used for depression, as well as medicines that affect the nerves and blood vessels may all affect your sex drive.

Health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, can also contribute to changes in your sexual health.

Adapted from National Cancer Institute, Sexual Health Issues in Men with Cancer

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Resources

Behavioral Health Services/Oncology Social Work

Our team of psychiatrists, licensed therapists, oncology social workers and psychiatric nurses are available to provide you with coping strategies, support and education, medicine management and counseling services.

Oncology Rehabilitation

Licensed, highly trained professionals are available to provide evaluation, education, and personalized rehabilitation counseling for patients who have experienced changes in sexual health during and after cancer treatment.

Patient Navigation

A dedicated team of professionals made up of nurses and patient advocates are available to help guide you through your treatment, provide access to Northside Hospital services and address potential barriers to care.

Community & National Resources

Click the links below to learn more about these organizations


Fertility Preservation

Gay and Bisexual Men