Radiation Therapy’s Side Effects on Sexuality and Fertility

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Because radiation therapy involves focusing strong beams of radioactive energy directly on the cancerous tumor and not throughout the body, most side effects occur in the immediate area where the radiation was directed.

If your radiation is targeted to a cancer in your pelvis or sex organs, you’ll likely experience some changes in your sexuality and fertility. Some of these changes are temporary and will go away when your treatment ends, but some are permanent.

There are different types of radiation therapy. Some are administered from the outside and some are implanted inside the body. Also, the radioactive chemicals used can vary according to the treatment. Be sure to ask your doctor what type of side effects you can expect from your particular type of radiation therapy.

Sexuality changes following radiation therapy

Both men and woman who undergo radiation therapy in the pelvic area are at risk for experiencing some level of sexual dysfunction. If you’re a man, you may experience impotence. If you’re a woman, you may develop symptoms that mimic peri-menopause. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and irregular periods. You may also experience a loss of vaginal elasticity, called stenosis.

Most sexual problems clear up when radiation therapy is done. In the meantime, men may find relief by taking an erectile dysfunction drug. Vaginal moisturizers and dilators can relieve discomfort for women. However, if you’ve developed stenosis, it will probably be with you for life.

Fertility challenges from cancer treatment

Radiation therapy and pregnancy don’t mix. Women shouldn’t get pregnant while going through treatments. Radiation can harm the fetus. If you’re pre-menopausal, your doctor can recommend an appropriate birth control method. Women who are pregnant need to tell their doctor before beginning therapy.

Radiation in the pelvic region can cause permanent infertility. If you hope to have children someday, but your doctor has told you your radiation treatments will leave you sterile, you should talk with her about harvesting your eggs or sperm.

If you’re still able to have children after your cancer treatment, your treatment shouldn’t have any effect on your child’s health.

Many cancer patients receive both chemotherapy and radiation. If you’re one of them, you also need to consider that you may experience additional side effects from the chemotherapy.

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