Cancer & Female Sexual Health

Women undergoing cancer treatment may experience physical and emotional changes that affect their sexual life and intimacy. You could experience pain, concern about how your partner sees you, sadness, or fear about your diagnosis, which could all affect your sexual health. If you develop a sexual problem or are having trouble with intimacy, talk to your provider about your symptoms and feelings. They can work with you find solutions and resources to help.

Common Concerns

It is possible for you to experience none, some or all of the concerns below. This could happen during treatment, right after completion, or long after treatment has ended. Sexual health issues affect everyone differently.

  • Lack of desire for sex and intimacy
  • Pain or discomfort during sex
  • Worry or sadness about changes to your body
  • Inability to reach orgasm
  • Vaginal tightness and/or dryness

Treatment Side Effects

Chemotherapy and Hormone Therapy Side Effects:

Both chemotherapy and hormone therapy can lower estrogen hormone levels and cause temporary or permanent menopause in women. Symptoms may include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irregular or no periods, and mood imbalances.

Radiation Therapy Side Effects:

  • Pelvic Area: Radiation to the pelvic area can damage your ovaries leading to hormonal changes and sudden menopause.

  • Vagina: Radiation to the vagina can irritate the skin, increase dryness and cause scarring of the vaginal walls, which can lead to narrowing and shortening of the vagina.

  • Breast/Chest: Radiation to the breast/chest can cause skin reactions, pain or swelling in the area, fatigue, change in how the breast looks, and lymphedema.

Surgery Side Effects:

  • Pelvic Area: Surgical procedures to the pelvic area may include removal or part or all of the ovaries, vulva or vagina. This can cause hormonal issues, pain, and physical inability to have intercourse.

  • Breasts: Surgical procedures to the breast(s) can include removing the whole breast (mastectomy) or a portion of the breast (partial mastectomy, lumpectomy). This can affect sensitivity in the breast area, pain, scarring and body image issues. Breast reconstruction may or may not be done at the time of mastectomy, or at all.

  • Medicine Side Effects: Medication for pain, depression, anxiety and nausea, among others, can cause a decrease in desire for sex.

    Sexual health issues are very common with cancer. While it is difficult for some people to talk about sex, it is a part of your quality of life. Let you provider know you have concerns. There are treatments for many of the sexual side effects, in addition to physical therapy and emotional support.

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 counselingservices.

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 including pelvic floor therapy, vaginal dilation and lymphedema therapy.

A Wellness Place

A boutique offering specialty health care products for men and women, including those for lymphedema and post-mastectomy/breast surgery.

Cancer & Female Sexual Health Community and National Resources

Click the links below to learn more about these organizations