The Adverse Sexual Effects of a Blood Cancer Diagnosis

What will happen to my sex life?

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Talking about your sex life with your doctor can be uncomfortable. And it can seem especially frivolous when you've been diagnosed with cancer. Still, your sexual health is an integral part of your overall health and well being, and there's nothing wrong with being curious about how things might change because of your illness, or even because of the treatment for your illness. 

What might be worth asking?

Can I Have Sex During My Cancer Treatment?

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it's usually okay to have sex while you're being treated. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

For one, you'll need to use a condom or other barrier method of protection during intercourse (including oral / genital sex) for at least three days following chemotherapy. Chemicals from chemotherapy can be excreted in semen and vaginal secretions, and a condom will help to protect your partner from unnecessary exposure.

Also, penetrative sex should be avoided entirely if you have a compromised immune system. Be creative and find other ways to stimulate yourself and your partner during periods of increased vulnerability.

Beyond this, there are no rules or timelines for sex after treatment. Listen to your body (or your partner's body) and pursue intimacy when you feel ready.

Can I Stop Using Birth Control?

While various cancer treatments are said to cause infertility, using a reliable method of birth control while you or your partner is undergoing treatment is very important. Therapy may decrease the number of sperm or egg cells released, but pregnancy is not impossible at this time. And severe toxicity or death of the unborn child can occur if you get pregnant during treatment.

Might My STIs Flare Up During Treatment?

Genital herpes and warts can reoccur or flare up when your immune system is decreased. If you do not have a regular partner, it is very important to take precautions so you don’t get any new infections. Using condoms every time for all types of intercourse can help reduce this risk.

What Should I Do About My Body Image During This Time?

It is not uncommon for people to feel differently about their bodies after a cancer diagnosis. Weight loss or gain, hair loss, skin toxicity from treatment, or having a central venous catheter can all be painful reminders of your illness. It's natural to feel a sense of loss, or even anger, over these changes.

The most important thing to remember is that you are loved and cared for, not because of how you look but because of who you are. 

How Can I Talk to My Doctor About My Sex Life When He’s Talking About Bone Marrow?

Difficulties with sex are a side effect just like any other, and sexuality is part of who we all are as human beings.

If your doctor can’t speak to you about changes to your sex life, ask for a referral to someone who can, such as a sex counselor or therapist.

And be mindful that what felt good before might not feel so pleasurable anymore. You may be frustrated by this at first. But instead, look at it as an opportunity to explore alternate forms of pleasure, and to redefine sex for you and your partner.


Shell, J. Impact of Cancer on Sexuality. In Otto, S. (2001)(ed)Oncology Nursing, 4th ed Mosby: St Louis. (pp.973- 1001).

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