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Chemotherapy Sexual Side Effects

Women, Chemotherapy, and Sexual Side Effects

Chemotherapy may affect women sexually in a number of ways. Some of these ways are discussed below.
Effects on the Ovaries
Chemotherapy medications can affect the ovaries and reduce the amount of hormones they produce. Some women find that their menstrual periods become irregular or stop completely while having chemotherapy. Related side effects may be temporary or permanent.
Damage to the ovaries may result in infertility, or the inability to become pregnant. The infertility can be either temporary or permanent. Whether infertility occurs and how long it lasts depends on many factors, including the type of drug, the dosage given, and the woman's age.
A woman's age and the drugs and dosages used will determine whether she experiences menopause while on chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may also cause menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes and dry vaginal tissues. These tissue changes can make intercourse uncomfortable and can make a woman more prone to bladder and/or vaginal infections. Menopause may be temporary or permanent.
To help relieve vaginal symptoms and prevent infections:
  • Use a water- or mineral oil-based vaginal lubricant at the time of intercourse
  • Ask your pharmacist about products that can be used to stop vaginal dryness, such as vaginal gels
  • Avoid using petroleum jelly, which is difficult for the body to get rid of and increases the risk of infection
  • Wear cotton underwear and pantyhose with a ventilated cotton lining
  • Avoid wearing tight slacks or shorts
  • Ask your healthcare provider about prescribing a vaginal cream or suppository to reduce the chances of infection
  • Ask your healthcare provider about using a vaginal dilator if painful intercourse continues.
Although pregnancy may be possible during chemotherapy, it is not advisable to become pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy. This is because some anticancer drugs may cause birth defects. Healthcare providers advise women of childbearing age (from the teenage years through the end of menopause) to use some method of birth control -- such as condoms, spermicidal agents, diaphragms, or birth control pills -- throughout their treatment. Birth control pills may not be appropriate for some women, such as those with breast cancer. Ask your healthcare provider about these contraceptive options.
If a woman is pregnant when her cancer is discovered, it may be possible to delay chemotherapy until after the baby is born. For a woman who needs treatment sooner, the possible effects of chemotherapy on the fetus need to be evaluated.
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