Your sex life and cervical cancer
Treatment for cervical cancer can have an effect on your sex life.
If you have not yet had your menopause you might find that your treatment brings on an early menopause. This will happen if you have:
- external radiotherapy
- your ovaries removed with surgery
Your surgeon might suggest leaving your ovaries behind if you haven't had your menopause, but that is not always possible. Having your ovaries removed will cause an immediate menopause.
Radiotherapy will cause an early menopause because it stops your ovaries from working. Ovaries produce sex hormones. They stop producing these hormones at the natural menopause.
For some women it is possible to move the ovaries out of the area where you are having radiotherapy (the radiotherapy field). Your surgeon can do this with keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. This might help to prevent you from going through an early menopause. Your doctor will discuss if this is an option for you.
The symptoms of a menopause due to cancer treatment are the same as those of a natural menopause, but they can be more intense if it comes on suddenly. You might have:
- hot flushes and sweating
- vaginal dryness
- low mood or depression
- loss of confidence and self esteem
- thinning bones
- loss of interest in sex
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
If your treatment causes an early menopause, speak with your doctor to see if you can have HRT.
HRT or hormone replacement therapy means taking a tablet or wearing a skin patch. This gives you the female sex hormones that you are no longer producing naturally from your ovaries.
HRT can usually help with all the symptoms of menopause. But if you have had radiotherapy, it is unlikely to help with vaginal dryness.
Other effects of radiotherapy
The radiotherapy that you have for cervical cancer is quite intensive. It can cause a number of side effects. These can include:
- shortening and narrowing of the vagina
- vaginal dryness
- pain when having sex
- sensitivity and fragility of the lining of the vagina
Common fears about sex and cancer
You might feel nervous about having sex after you have been diagnosed with cervical cancer or after treatment. If you want to, you can go back to a normal sex life within a few weeks of finishing radiotherapy or having surgery.
It is a good idea to have those few weeks to help your body heal. But after that it is perfectly safe. Sex won't make your cancer worse or make it more likely to come back.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Cervical cancer is not infectious. Your partner can't catch it from you. This can be confusing because cervical cancer is linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus increases the risk of some cancers and can be passed between sexual partners. Speak to your doctor or nurse if you are worried.
If you are having chemotherapy, it is a good idea for your partner to use a condom if you have penetrative sex. This is just a precaution.
Doctors don't know enough yet about whether any of the cancer treatment drugs come through in the cervical or vaginal mucus. There is no known harm so far but doctors are not sure whether the drugs could have an effect on your partner.
You may feel nervous about starting your sex life again, but try not to worry. You probably just need time to come to terms with all that has happened to you.
If you are worried, anxious or depressed, you are not likely to feel like having sex. Give yourself plenty of time. And it helps to talk things over with your partner. Together you can work out what is best for you both.
There are sex therapists you can see, who can help you. Talk to your GP and they can put you in touch with someone. But for most people, it just takes a little time.