Can Cervical Cancer Affect Your Sex Life?
- 5 Mins Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
- Cervical cancer is caused by HPV 16 or HPV 18 primarily due to sexual contact, but the cancer is not transmissible to sexual partners.
- Vaginal dryness or pain during penetration are some side-effects that may create a temporary hindrance in your sex life if your treatment entails certain types of procedures
- It is still possible to achieve orgasm after undergoing treatment for cervical cancer
The humungous impact of being diagnosed with cervical cancer can lead to several emotional ramifications about how cervical cancer can affect your sex life. Loss of libido, fear of pain during sex, and other physical problems like vaginal dryness, can make sexual activity complicated after the treatment.
However, keeping the lines of communication open with your partner and doctors can go a long way in resolving these problems and helping your partner support you to resume an active sex life sooner than later.
What is cervical cancer – A brief snapshot
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix – a small canal between the vagina and uterus. Several factors like family history, smoking, sexual contact with multiple partners, becoming sexually active at a young age, and excessive consumption of oral contraceptives put you at risk of cervical cancer.
This cancer is best prevented through taking HPV vaccines (to stop infections caused by HPV 16 and HPV 18, that lead to cervical cancer), or via timely detection through simple screening methods like Pap smear or HPV swab tests. In the absence of these measures, the cancer is also detectable via early warning signs like intermittent vaginal bleeding, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or bleeding after sex, among others.
Cervical cancer treatment and how it can affect your sex life
There are different treatment procedures to cure a woman of cervical cancer, depending on the stage to which it has grown, and the extent of its spread in her body. Earlier the detection and diagnosis, simpler is the method of treatment that can be used to cure cancer. Apart from other issues, simpler methods can cause lesser hindrances in a woman’s sex life.
- Cervical cancers diagnosed in earlier stages can be treated through procedures like Conization, LEEP, or trachelectomy (simple or radical).
- These are also known as fertility-sparing treatment procedures, as they help a woman retain her child-bearing abilities despite having cervical cancer.
These treatments cause scarring of the cervix and surrounding tissue, thus leading to pain and discomfort for a few weeks. But then, it gradually starts becoming easier to restart the action between the sheets.
- On the other hand, procedures like chemotherapy, radiation, and hysterectomy leave a larger imprint in terms of side effects, due to the heavy medication involved, thus also making it more difficult to resume one’s sex life.
How cervical cancer treatment can cause sex-related problems
The commonest procedures used to eliminate cervical cancer are Conization and LEEP aka Look Electrosurgical Excision Procedure. Since both these procedures involve a small part of the cancer-affected cervix being sheared off, it renders the patient unable to have sex for at least 4 to 6 weeks, till the scars are healed.
Women affirm suffering from vaginal dryness, vaginal pain, and pressure on the cervix for a few weeks after they undergo LEEP. The pain and pressure occur owing to the narrowing of the cervix during the procedure. Resuming sex gradually and using lubricants to ease the dryness are two best ways to get going again.
Feeling of fatigue
When radiation therapy is used to burn the cancer cells, it may make the woman feel tired during the length of the treatment. Since the radiation is primarily aimed at the pelvic region, it can also lead to dryness, itching, and burning sensation in the vagina. These effects wear off a few weeks after completion of the treatment, thus letting you resume your sex life gradually.
Loss of libido
Chemotherapy can also make a woman feel tired and lose her libido for the length of the treatment. Albeit, this depends on the quantum of chemo-drugs required to be used on her. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, weight gain, constant nausea, fatigue – all of which can have an impact on a woman’s psyche, making her feel unattractive and/or disinterested in having sex.
Loss of oestrogen
Sudden loss of oestrogen is another side-effect of chemotherapy, which can lead to menopause-like symptoms such as dry vagina and thinning vagina. All these factors can put a temporary blip on the woman’s sex life; but the heartening part is that, with due patience and advice from the doctor, her sex life can resume after the treatment is complete.
How does undergoing a hysterectomy for cervical cancer can affect your sex life?
At times, there might be no option left but to conduct a hysterectomy, which may entail the removal of the ovaries and/or the uterus. Of course, the doctor will try preserving at least one ovary and the uterus, to enable a woman to conceive later.
But, depending on the spread of cancer, if both ovaries are removed, it may lead to menopause-like symptoms such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes, thus making sex uncomfortable.
Since the removal of the ovaries can cause a dip in the oestrogen produced, it can lead to early menopause setting in, thus prolonging the aforementioned symptoms. If the hysterectomy requires the uterus to be removed, it can also cause psychological ramifications wherein the woman might feel a loss of her femininity.
Sex after cervical cancer
- First and foremost, remember that sexual intercourse can be resumed in 4-6 weeks after most cervical cancer treatment procedures. It is best to discuss this aspect frankly with your doctor, who can guide you about what temporary problems to expect and what remedies can be used for the same (for e.g., lubricants, vaginal oestrogen creams and so on).
- After the treatment, if you experience bleeding or excessive pain in the vaginal or pelvic region, do visit the doctor immediately.
- An oft-pondered thought is about whether the woman can achieve orgasm after being treated for cervical cancer. Procedures like pelvic radiotherapy and hysterectomy can cause hormonal changes, which alter the response to sexual stimulation.
- If the surgical procedure involves removing the cervix, uterus and/or the top part of the vagina, it won’t be possible to experience the pleasurable contractions of these organs.However, not all is lost. Clitoral stimulation and pelvic floor exercises slowly help to regain the capacity to orgasm. According to some studies, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have a positive effect on helping patients with cervical cancer regain their response to sexual stimuli.
Lot of anxieties regarding sex after being diagnosed with cervical cancer, relate more to emotional and psychological blockages than physical ones.
The fear of transmitting the cancer to one’s partner (‘not possible’), anxiety about change in physical looks due to hair fall or weight gain in some therapies, loss of libido due to hormonal changes, and trepidation about bleeding and pain when sex is resumed, are some of the thoughts that make the woman anxious.
However, an open line of communication with the doctor to convey that you’re interested in resuming an active sex life post-treatment; coupled with talking to your partner about what changes you will be undergoing during and after the treatment, makes it much easy to get back into action.
As they say, sex is more between the ears than between the legs. When it comes to sex after cervical cancer, it helps to face your fears and anxieties to overcome the brief trough in the curve. The best part is that sex-related problems after cervical cancer treatment are temporary in nature. Thus, approach the issue with confidence and effective communication; you’ll be grooving in bed within no time!
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center –https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/instructions-after-cone-biopsy-cervix