Uterine Cancer Sexual Side Effects

Although people suffering from any type of cancer may experience sexual side effects, women living with breast and any form of pelvic cancer, including uterine cancer, are at an especially high risk of having sexual side effects. The main reasons for this include:

  • cancer and associated treatments affect hormone levels and sex drive
  • reproductive and sexual organs have endured physical changes
  • treatments and the condition itself cause emotional stress and anxiety that reduces sex drive.

Types of Sexual Side Effects

Here is an outline of the possible sexual side effects that women with uterine cancer may experience:

  • pain during sex
  • problems climaxing
  • reduced sex drive
  • reduced vaginal size
  • vaginal dryness.

Treatment Options that Have Sexual Side Effects

The main reasons that uterine cancer patients suffer from sexual side effects are due to the emotional stress and anxiety associated with the condition and treatment, as well as the physical changes caused by the various treatment options themselves. Here is an outline of which treatments cause sexual side effects:

  • chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the method of treating cancer with chemicals and other drugs that patients take as pills or injections. Because chemotherapy causes some to lose their hair and either lose or gain excessive amounts of weight, these patients tend to feel uncomfortable in their bodies and experience a lower sex drive.Similarly, chemotherapy is known to cause fatigue, reducing sexual desire, and reduce estrogen levels in uterine cancer patients. As a result, these patients experience side effects similar to menopause symptoms (i.e. vaginal dryness).Depending on your individual case, your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is also a treatment used for menopause, to reduce your sexual side effects. Before starting chemotherapy treatments, talk to your doctor and make sure that you understand the side effects.
  • radiation: Although radiation can be effective in the treatment of uterine cancer, it can damage the ovaries and alter the vaginal lining. If your ovaries become damaged, they will stop producing estrogen, causing you to experience symptoms associated with menopause (i.e. hot flashes, vaginal dryness, etc).If the vaginal lining starts to change because of radiation treatments, it will likely become inflamed and particularly sensitive, causing pain during penetration. Once the lining heals itself, it will be scarred and tighter, making penetration and sex more difficult.Although your doctors cant prevent ovary damage, they will suggest that you use a vaginal dilator (a tampon-shaped device women insert for set amount of time) to reduce scarring and keep promote pliability.
  • surgery: Depending on the shape, size and location of your uterine tumor, surgery may be a treatment option. They types of surgery a uterine cancer patient may receive include a radical hysterectomy (to remove the lining of the uterus), a radical cystectomy (to remove the bladder, cervix and uterus), an abdominoperneal resection (to remove your colon and rectum) and/or a vulvectomy (to remove your vulva).Because each of these procedures removes a major part of the sexual and reproductive organs, surgery has profound, long-term sexual side effects. Some of these sexual effects include pain during sex, early menopause and difficulty achieving orgasm. Surgery is generally one of the first treatment options that doctors will use, especially if the tumors are localized, as they generally are in the early stages of uterine cancer. As a result, talk to your doctor and be sure that you understand the procedure related side effects.

Regaining Sexual Function

Because the sexual side effects of uterine cancer stem from a variety of causes, regaining proper sexual function depends on the main cause of the dysfunction. In general, sexual dysfunction caused by chemotherapy or emotional stress is the easiest to fix in that your body will regenerate normal cells a little while after the chemo stops, and emotional issues can be worked through with a professional and possibly some medication.

Although permanent changes to your reproductive organs will permanently change your sexual functioning, there are some steps you can take to find regain parts, if not all, of your sex life, including:

  • finding new ways to be intimate
  • talking to your doctors to fully understand what you are and aren’t capable of doing, experiencing or regaining
  • talking to other uterine cancer patients to learn techniques
  • talking to your partner to find ways to alter your sex life.

Resources

Mayo Clinic (2007). Cancer Treatment for Women. Retrieved June 21, 2007 from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer-treatment/SA00071/rss=1.

National Cancer Institute (2007). Chemotherapy and You. Retrieved June 21, 2007 from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemotherapy-and-you/page4.