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Cancer treatment: fertility and sexual side effects in women

Radiotherapy - fertility; Radiation - fertility; Chemotherapy - fertility; Sexual dysfunction - cancer treatment

Getting treatment for cancer can cause side effects. Some of these side effects can affect your sex life or fertility, which is your ability to have children. These side effects may last for a short time or be permanent. The type of side effect you have depends on your type of cancer and your treatment.

I Would Like to Learn About:

Cancers Most Likely to Have Sexual Side Effects

Many cancer treatments can cause sexual side effects. But you are more likely to have these side effects if you are being treated for one of these types of cancer:

Types of Sexual Side Effects

For women, the most common sexual side effects include:

Other side effects can include:

Many people also have emotional side effects after cancer treatment, such as feeling depressed or bad about your body. These side effects can also affect your sex life. You may not feel like having sex or may not want your partner to touch your body.

How Cancer Treatment Causes These Side Effects

Different types of cancer treatment can affect your sexuality and fertility in different ways.

Surgery for cancer:

Chemotherapy can cause:

Radiation therapy can cause:

Hormone therapy for breast cancer can cause:

Talk About Side Effects

One of the most important things you can do is to talk with your health care provider about sexual side effects before your treatment. Ask what types of possible side effects to expect and how long they will last. This way, you will know what to expect. You should also talk about these changes with your partner.

If your treatment can cause fertility problems, you may want to see a fertility doctor before your treatment to discuss your options if you want to have children. These options may include freezing your eggs or ovarian tissue.

Sex During Treatment

Although many women continue to have sex during cancer treatment, you may find you are not interested in sex. Both of these responses are normal.

If you do want to have sex, make sure to ask your provider if it is OK. Also ask about using birth control. In most cases, it is not safe to get pregnant during cancer treatment.

Coping with Sexual Changes

Sex may feel different for you after your treatment, but there are ways to help cope.


American Cancer Society website. How cancer and cancer treatment can affect fertility in females. Updated February 6, 2020. Accessed October 28, 2022.

American Cancer Society website. Questions women have about cancer, sex, and getting professional help. Updated January 12, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2022.

Mitsis D, Beaupin LK, O'Connor T. Reproductive complications. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 43.

National Cancer Institute website. Fertility issues in girls and women with cancer. Updated February 24, 2020. Accessed October 28, 2022.


Review Date: 8/15/2022  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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