What Women Can Do About Changes in Sexuality and Fertility
What women can do about changes in sexuality and fertility caused by radiation therapy.
You may be wondering if radiation therapy could affect your sex life. Letís listen to a discussion between Dr. Williams and women in a support group as they talk first about sexuality issues that relate to all women getting radiation therapy. And then to questions from women receiving radiation therapy to the pelvic area - such as to the vagina, uterus, or ovaries - about fertility issues. Letís listen in on their discussion.
Dr. Williams, Iím Gina. My husband and I had a pretty active sex life before I started treatment. Now, Iím just not in the mood. Is this normal?
Yes it is, Gina. Youíre going through a lot these days. Coping with cancer, feeling very tired, or being in pain can lower sexual desires. Try to be easy on yourself. It can help to talk with your husband about what youíre feeling. There are many ways to stay close during this time other than having sex. Holding, hugging, and cuddling are ways that help many people stay connected.
Thatís true, Dr. Williams. My partner and I sit side by side when we watch TV. And sometimes we give each other backrubs. My question is about whether or not I need to use birth control during radiation therapy.
Yes, women whoíve not yet gone through menopause and who are having intercourse should talk with their doctor about birth control and ways to keep from getting pregnant.
Itís very important not to get pregnant during radiation therapy. The treatment can harm an unborn baby.
Dr. Williams, I am getting radiation to my pelvis, and itís causing some changes in my vagina. It feels dry and itchy, and, frankly, sex hurts.
Iím sorry to hear that. This is a common side effect for women getting radiation to the pelvis. Many women are helped by products such as Replens, Astroglide, or K-Y liquid. These products help make the vagina moist. Your doctor may also suggest a gel or cream to stop an itchy, dry, or burning feeling.
In some cases, something called a dilator can also help. It stretches the vagina. Talk with your nurse to learn more about this product.
Dr. Williams, before I got cancer my husband and I were ready to start a family. Now Iím not so sure if thatís going to be possible. What can we do?
Cara, Iím glad you asked about that. First, itís good to know that there are more fertility options these days than there used to be. Itís best to talk with your doctor before treatment starts if youíll be receiving radiation therapy to the pelvis and would like to get pregnant after radiation therapy.
Your doctor can talk with you about things you can do now to plan for the future or refer you to a fertility specialist.
Any more questions?
Well, okayóitís been a pleasure to talk with all of you. Iíll be staying around to answer any individual questions that you may have.
Rememberóyou may have less desire for sex during radiation therapy. Talk with your partner to find new ways to show affection and feel connected.
If you are having sex, make sure to use birth control since radiation therapy can harm an unborn baby.
And for women getting radiation to the pelvis there are 2 suggestions:
First, ask your nurse about products that can help make the vagina feel more comfortable or stretch the vagina.
Second, talk with your doctor before treatment if you are interested in having children after treatment. There are things you can do now to plan for the future.
Finally, be sure to talk with your health care team to learn more about how to manage and prepare for any changes in sexuality and fertility that may happen.