Contraception and cancer treatment

I've been told to use contraception while I'm having cancer treatment. Why is that?

Advice columnist and relationship expert Matt Whyman answers:

It's only natural to want to continue living your life as normally as possible during treatment, this can include sex and relationships. At the same time, it’s important to recognise any issues you need to consider to put your health and welfare first.

Why use contraception?

Many people having treatment ask cancer specialist Dr Dan Yeomanson about contraception: "There are two main reasons to use barrier contraception such as condoms during cancer treatment.

"First, it's very important not to get pregnant during cancer treatment, becaase there is a risk that it could harm an unborn baby. This is true whether it's the male or female partner having treatment. 

"Second, there is a small chance that chemicals from chemotherapy drugs may be present in vaginal fluids and semen. We don't know for sure but in theory this could harm your sexual partner."

If you're on the pill

Dan explains: "Birth control pills can be affected by treatment, eg if you are vomiting, or if there is an interaction with other drugs you're taking, this could make the pill less reliable. For this reason, and to protect your partner from possible exposure to chemo, it's wise to use barrier methods such as male or female condoms or dams, in addition to your usual method."

After treatment 

He continues: "It is a good idea to continue to use effective contraception for a new months after chemotherapy and after radiotherapy to the pelvis or testicles, as the potentially harmful effects of treatment on an unborn baby may persist.

There are also certain situations where pregnancy soon after finishing treatment could increase the risk of a tumour coming back." 

Talk to your care team

There's no need to be a natural-born expert on cancer treatment and sex. Talk to the doctor in charge of your care, or another member of the team if that helps you feel more comfortable, and ask for their advice and support. Ultimately, they will recognise your right to make informed decisions about this important aspect of your life. This will bring you peace of mind.

Content added: November 2015
Review due: November 2017