For both men and women, it's important to talk to the doctor before you start your treatment about fertility options after your treatment is complete. If you are thinking about having children after your treatment, you may choose to harvest eggs/bank sperm. Your doctor may also refer you to a fertility specialist for further information and planning.
Women who are having radiation therapy cannot be already pregnant and must use birth control during treatment as the radiation could harm the fetus.
A lot of patients are reluctant to talk to the doctor about the sexual side effects of treatment, but it is a subject that needs to be discussed because there are many options for patients who are having sexual difficulties, and it's important that they be able to maintain intimacy with their spouses through a stressful time.
During treatment, ask your doctor if it's okay for you to have sex. Most patients are able to have sex, but it depends on the type of treatment.
A lot of patients, however, are not interested in sex during their therapy. This is a normal reaction – you are tired from treatment, you're worried and stressed, and you may be in pain. For the time being, it's okay to maintain your closeness to your spouse in other ways.
Most men who are having radiation therapy in the pelvic area will experience some level of erectile dysfunction (ED) during their treatment because the nerves/blood vessels in that area are so sensitive. However, many men who have ED will have improvement over the first year after treatment. If you continue to have problems, talk to your doctor as there are many options available to men with ED, including medications, mechanical devices and surgery.
Women who have radiation therapy in the pelvic area may experience physical changes in the vagina; some have dryness or a burning sensation, others may feel a narrowing effect that can make having sex painful. Talk to the doctor or nurse about your options:
- Dryness can be alleviated by using gels, creams or products such as K-Y Liquid. Ask about which products are best for you.
- Dilators can be used to stretch the vagina, making sex less painful. Ask if this is an option for you.