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Sexuality and Fertility in Women during Radiation Therapy

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What do I need to know about sexuality and fertility during radiation therapy?

Radiation may damage your reproductive organs or cause early menopause, preventing you from being able to become pregnant. A decrease in female hormone levels can cause problems with sexual function or desire. Radiation can also cause vaginal itching, burning, and dryness that make sex painful or difficult.

Female Reproductive System

What can I do before radiation therapy to protect my fertility?

Talk to your healthcare providers before you start radiation therapy. It is important for your providers to know if you want to have children after therapy. You may be able to do the following before treatment:

  • You can have your eggs removed and fertilized with 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 you finish your treatment. You can also have your eggs removed and frozen without being fertilized. The eggs can be thawed and fertilized after treatment. After treatment, an embryo can be implanted into your uterus. Embryos can also be implanted into another woman's uterus so she can carry the baby. This is called surrogacy. Surrogacy may be needed if your reproductive organs are damaged during radiation therapy.
  • Ovarian transposition (or oophoropexy) is surgery to move your ovaries out of the way of radiation treatment. Radiation can affect healthy tissues that are near the cancer tissues. Have this surgery as close to the start of radiation treatment as possible. Your ovaries may move back to their original positions and not be protected.

What do I need to know about pregnancy during and after radiation therapy?

Work with healthcare providers to plan a pregnancy if you did not store your eggs before treatment. You may be able to get pregnant during and after treatment, but radiation can harm an unborn baby. Radiation can also cause problems during pregnancy. Use birth control during the time you are treated and for up to 6 months after. This may prevent problems with the pregnancy or harm to the baby.

What can I do to manage problems?

  • Hormone replacement medicine may be given to manage side effects of radiation therapy. You may be given hormones if you develop menopause symptoms.
  • 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.

Where can I get support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address: http://www.cancer.org

When should I contact my doctor or gynecologist?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.