Treatment side effects and sexuality

When you are first diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to focus on getting well. As treatment progresses, you may notice the effect on your self-esteem, body image, relationships and sex life. It usually takes time to adjust to these changes.

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Emotions and sexuality

It is normal to experience a range of emotions during and after cancer treatment. Some of the emotions you may feel include:

Anger – You may feel angry about having cancer and about the ways it has affected your life, including your sexuality or your ability to have children (fertility).

Anxiety – The thought of being intimate or having sexual intercourse again after treatment may make you feel anxious. You may be unsure how you’ll perform, dread being touched, or fear that penetrative intercourse will be painful. If you’re single, you may feel anxious about starting a new relationship. Anxiety may affect your self-esteem and your interest in having sex.

Fear – You may worry that others will avoid or reject you when they see how your body has changed. Or you may be afraid that you’re not satisfying your partner sexually, or that your partner no longer finds you sexually attractive. You may not be able to imagine yourself in a sexual situation again.

Guilt – Many people think they should just be grateful to have the cancer treated and feel guilty for thinking about their sexual needs.

Self-consciousness – If the way your body looks has changed after cancer treatment, you may feel self-conscious about being seen naked. Often people find that their partner (or a potential partner) isn’t as concerned about these changes as they are.

Shame – You may feel ashamed by changes to how you look, your sexuality, or the way your body functions.

Depression – Feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common. If you have continued feelings of sadness, irritability or anxiety, trouble sleeping, less interest in activities you previously enjoyed, poor appetite and a reduced interest in sex (low libido), you may be experiencing depression.

Grief – You may grieve for the loss of your former body and its functioning, and your sex life if the changes are significant.

These emotions can affect your self-esteem, sexuality and attitude towards intimacy. It can help to talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust, such as your partner or a health professional, or with another person who has had cancer.

For more on this, see Emotions and cancer.


How cancer treatment affects sexuality

The most common cancer treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Other treatments include immunotherapy and targeted therapy. These treatments, as well as the cancer itself, can have temporary or permanent effects on your sexuality. Some sexual problems are common, but may not be an issue for everyone. For more on ways to manage specific problems, see Overcoming specific challenges.

general

  • tiredness and fatigue
  • depression and anxiety
  • difficulty feeling pleasure during sex
  • loss of desire/interest in sex
  • painful intercourse
  • changed body image, e.g. due to scarring, removal of a body part, hair loss from any part of the body, skin rashes, changes in weight
  • loss of a body part, such as an erogenous zone or reproductive organ
  • incontinence
  • pelvic pain
  • fertility problems (temporary or permanent)
  • strain on, or changes to, your relationship(s)

females

  • vaginal dryness
  • reduced vaginal size
  • loss of sensation
  • pelvic pain
  • trouble reaching orgasm
  • menopausal symptoms

 

males

  • erection problems
  • ejaculation difficulties

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer.


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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in May 2019
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Support services

Coping with cancer?
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Cancer information

Cancer treatment
More information about cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery

Sexuality, intimacy and cancer – PDF download
Learn more about how cancer affects sexuality, intimacy and cancer in this downloadable fact sheet

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