Cancer treatment for women: Possible sexual side effects

Cancer treatment can cause physical changes that make having sex more difficult. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sex might be the last thing on your mind as you start thinking about cancer treatment options and begin coping with the anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But as you start to feel more comfortable during cancer treatment and afterward, you'll want to get back to a "normal" life as much as you can. For many women, this includes resuming sexual intimacy.

An intimate connection with a partner can make you feel loved and supported as you go through your cancer treatment. But sexual side effects of cancer treatment can make resuming sex more difficult. Find out if you're at risk of sexual side effects during and after cancer treatment and which treatments can cause these side effects.

Who's at risk of sexual side effects?

Women with the greatest risk of sexual side effects include those being treated for:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Vaginal cancer

Treatment for each of these cancers carries the risk of causing physical changes to your body. But having cancer also affects your emotions, no matter what type of cancer you have. For instance, you may feel anxious and worn out about your diagnosis, your treatment or your prognosis. These emotions can also affect your attitude toward sex and intimacy with your partner.

What sexual side effects are most common?

The treatment you receive and your type and stage of cancer will determine whether you experience sexual side effects. The most commonly reported side effects among women include:

  • Difficulty reaching climax
  • Less energy for sexual activity
  • Loss of desire for sex
  • Pain during penetration
  • Reduced size of the vagina
  • Vaginal dryness

Not all women will experience these side effects. Your doctor can give you an idea of whether your specific treatment will cause any of these.

Jun. 24, 2011 See more In-depth