If sex is painful

Sex hurts since I've started treatment. What's going on?

Advice columnist and relationship expert Matt Whyman answers:

Despite having cancer, it's important to feel that life goes on as usual in every possible way. 

How cancer might affect sex

The fact is sex should be a pleasurable experience. If it hurts, take time out and seek advice. Talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend. It might also help if they come along when you ask your nurse or doctor about the problem.

Dr Dan Yeomanson, a doctor who specialises in cancer treatment, explains: "Cancer can cause problems that may affect sexual desire and pleasure. Physical symptoms such as tiredness, nausea or soreness can get in the way. Cancers and treatments affecting your pelvic area are particularly likely to cause symptoms that affect sex.

"Emotional effects such as low mood, changed body image and anxiety can also reduce your sex drive or make it hard to reach an orgasm. These feelings can make it difficult for guys to have an erection. But please be reassured that many people having cancer treatment continue to enjoy sex."

Talk to a professional

People often find it hard talking about something so intimate, but all doctors and nurses should recognise and respect your right to maintaining a fulfilling sex life. They'll seek to answer your questions with sensitive advice.

There should always be private space available for this type of discussion. You can also ask to talk to a professional of the same gender as you if you prefer. It'll take courage to raise the issue, but it's the surest way to take the weight off your mind.

Dealing with vaginal dryness

Sarah Burton is a gynae oncology clinical specialist nurse. She explains: "Some treatments cause vaginal dryness, such as radiotherapy to the pelvis, which may stop the ovaries from producing oestrogen. An early menopause can also be caused by treatment that affects the pituitary gland in the brain. It happens because this gland produces hormones that control the production of oestrogen by the ovaries.

"If you have a dry vagina, this can be treated by using a gel on the inside lining of the vagina. You can buy these gels online or from a pharmacy, or you can ask your specialist nurse or doctor for a prescription."

Content added: November 2015
Review due: November 2017