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Sexuality And Fertility During Radiation Therapy


Radiation therapy

may cause problems with sexual function and fertility. Reproductive organs may be damaged by radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to the pituitary gland in your brain can decrease hormone levels. These side effects may prevent pregnancy or normal sexual function in both men and women.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have new or increased pain during or after sex.
  • You have bleeding from your vagina or penis during or after sex.
  • You have a change in erectile function or the amount of semen you make.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Side effects of radiation therapy in men:

  • Damage to the testicles
  • Difficulty having or keeping an erection
  • Difficult or painful ejaculation
  • A low sperm count
  • Decreased sex drive

Side effects of radiation therapy in women:

  • Damage to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries
  • Vaginal itching, burning, and dryness
  • Early menopause
  • Decreased sex drive

Preserve fertility before treatment:

Before you start radiation therapy, talk to your healthcare provider about your plans to have children.

  • A man can donate his sperm to a sperm bank before he begins treatment. Sperm can be saved and used after treatment to get his partner pregnant.
  • A woman can have her eggs removed and fertilized with her partner's sperm to create an embryo. This is called in vitro fertilization (IVF). The embryos that are created from IVF can be frozen and used after a woman has finished her treatment. A woman can also have her eggs removed and frozen without being fertilized by sperm. The eggs can be thawed and fertilized after treatment to create an embryo.
  • After treatment, an embryo can be implanted into a woman's uterus and a normal pregnancy can begin. Embryos can also be implanted into another woman who will carry the baby until he is born. This is called a surrogate mother. A surrogate mother may be needed if a woman's reproductive organs are damaged during radiation therapy.
  • Donor eggs or sperm may also be used after treatment to have a baby. Talk to your healthcare provider about these and other ways to preserve fertility before radiation therapy.

Prevent pregnancy during radiation therapy:

Radiation therapy can harm your unborn baby and cause problems during pregnancy. Use a birth control method during radiation therapy to prevent pregnancy. You may also need to use a birth control method for a length of time after treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about a birth control method that is right for you.

Manage side effects of radiation therapy:

  • Hormone replacement medicine may be given to a man or a woman to manage side effects of radiation therapy. Hormone replacement medicine may be given to a man to increase his sex drive. Hormone replacement medicine may be given to a woman if she develops menopause symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider if hormone replacement medicine is right for you.
  • Use a water-based lubricant during sex to manage vaginal dryness. Do not use lubricants that are scented or colored.
  • Enjoy other forms of intimacy if sex is uncomfortable or painful.
  • Get support by joining support groups or therapy. Changes in sexual function and fertility may be difficult for you and your partner. Ask your healthcare provider where you can get help and how you can cope with these issues.

When you can get pregnant after treatment:

A woman should wait at least 6 months after treatment before she tries to get pregnant. A man should wait 1 to 2 years after treatment before trying to get his partner pregnant. This may prevent problems with the pregnancy or harm to the baby.

Where can I get more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.