Sexual health concerns can be caused by a number of different factors in women. Chemotherapy or radiation treatment may have left you with temporary or permanent damage to your ovaries leading to hormonal changes or menopausal changes. Radiation therapy, especially near the pelvic area, may have also lead to damage to your vaginal lining resulting in decreased moisture and/or vaginal wall flexibility. You may also be taking various supportive care medications such as medications for pain that has left you with a lack of desire to engage in sexual activity. Keep in mind that various psychosocial issues may also contribute to the sexual issues that you may be experiencing.
Here are some concerns that you may encounter in your sex life and tips to help alleviate the issues:
- Vaginal pain and/or dryness: This is usually related to changes in the vaginal wall, size, and moisture level. Ask your gynecologist to recommend relaxation exercises or products such as vaginal moisturizers or lubricants and vaginal estrogen products such as creams, tablets, or rings
- Early menopause: These symptoms usually arise abruptly from the lack of estrogen as a result of cancer treatment. This may cause hot flashes, vaginal tightness, and vaginal dryness. Ask your doctor if you could benefit from hormonal replacement therapy to help with these issues
- Lack of pleasure and difficulty reaching orgasm: Cancer treatment is rarely the direct cause of decreased pleasure or ability to reach orgasm. This may be caused by other medications such as antidepressants or even related to the pain that is associated with having sex. Consider trying different positions or different types of pleasurable touches or stimulations
- Lack of desire, negative thoughts and feelings: Try to identify the cause of these emotions. For some people these feelings may be due to other feelings such as worry, pain, or fatigue. Try focusing on fantasies or thoughts that promote pleasurable feelings. For others, it may be a physical cause such a side effect to pain medications. If so, ask your doctor to suggest alternative support medications
Although it may be difficult to do so, it is important to discuss your concerns with your healthcare team. They can answer your questions or refer you to doctors who specialize in this sexual health to help you overcome these challenges and concerns.
Communication with your partner or a potential partner is also important. A vital part of your quality of life after your lymphoma experience is sexuality.
American Cancer Society. Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment. Revised August 29, 2013
American Cancer Society. Summary table of how some common cancer treatments can affect sexuality and fertility. Revised August 29, 2013