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Restoring Sexuality after Ovarian Cancer


Photo by Cancer Type

Some treatments for ovarian cancer can cause side effects that may change the way you feel about your body or make it difficult to enjoy intimate or sexual relationships. Which side effects you experience depend on your treatment course. You may experience some or none at all. Being aware of the possible side effects may help you anticipate them and learn ways to cope with them.

Possible side effects include the following:

  • Hair Loss A common side effect of chemotherapy, hair loss is usually temporary. Still, it can be difficult to accept. If you experience hair loss, you may choose to wear flattering wigs, scarves, or other headwear.
  • Vaginal Changes Some forms of treatment, such as hysterectomy and radiation therapy, may cause dryness, shortening, and narrowing of the vagina. These changes can make sexual activity uncomfortable. Using an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant may help you feel more comfortable. Your treatment team may also recommend a vaginal dilator.
  • Reduced Sexual Desire The stress and fatigue you may experience during cancer treatment may cause you to lose interest in sex for a period of time.


Tips for Coping

Talk with your treatment team. Your treatment team members can provide advice based on your individual situation, so it is very important that you talk honestly with them. You may want to talk to them about how treatment will affect your sexuality, other treatment options that might lessen these effects, and suggestions that they may have for dealing with the effects of treatment on sexuality.

Communicate with your partner. Having cancer can strain both partners in a relationship. Talking about the sexual and emotional effects cancer has on your relationship can be difficult. But you may find it easier to work through the challenges if you talk through them together. Be prepared to share your own feelings and to listen to what your partner has to say.

Shift your focus to intimacy. Sexual intercourse is only one part of intimacy. You may find that touching, kissing, and cuddling are equally fulfilling.

Be patient with yourself. Understand that a return to a sexual relationship may take time. Your treatment team can tell you if and how long you should wait to have sex after treatment. It may be longer before you feel emotionally ready. Give yourself the time you need.

Keep an open mind. Having an open mind and a sense of humor about ways to improve your sexuality may help you and your partner find what works best for you.

Seek support. There are many resources available to help you deal with any sexual or emotional issues you may have as result of cancer and its treatment. Specially trained counselors can help you deal with the impact of cancer on your life. Support groups are another good resource. People who are facing a situation similar to yours can come together to share their experiences and give one another advice and emotional support. To find support services in your area, talk with a member of your treatment team.

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Excerpted with permission from Understanding Ovarian Cancer: A Woman?s Guide, copyright © The Gynecologic Cancer Foundation,

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2008.