Let’s talk about sex and chemotherapy

Guidelines for safe sex during chemotherapy

sex and chemotherapyIs it safe to have sexual relations with my partner who is undergoing chemotherapy? When is the right time, or the safest time? As a Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse, I get questions like this from callers from time to time.

Sexuality and sex are two very important parts of a relationship, and it is only natural that our patients and partners worry about what the best approach is. And the short answer is: Sexuality is whatever a person desires, as long as it is mutual and safe.

Is sex safe, if so, when is a good time? When should we avoid sex? Can we have oral sex? What about potential exposure during chemotherapy treatments? These questions are important, too. Here’s what I tell my patients:

Sexual relations with your partner depend on a number of factors, most importantly, being able to talk about it.

For men it is often most difficult to have this conversation after surgery for prostate cancer, and their ‘ability’ to perform. It is important to remember that there are other ways to be intimate beyond intercourse, and that there are medications available to help with any erectile dysfunction issues.

Women often face the fear of discomfort during intercourse or vaginal dryness, and need to be aware that there are over the counter lubricants or moisturizers that can help with this condition.

Safety concerns may come up when discussing intimacy issues in regard to low blood counts and risk of infection.

Follow these rules for safe sex when your partner is undergoing chemotherapy:

  • Wait 48 – 72 hours after the last infusion or oral chemotherapy – your partner’s doctor can say how many hours you should observe.
  • This includes oral, anal and vaginal sex.
  • Use condoms or other barriers from start to finish to avoid bodily fluids. This is important for several reasons:
    • Barriers can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which is very important when the patient’s immune system may be weakened.
    • Barriers can prevent the partner from being exposed to the toxicity of chemotherapy that may still be present in the patient’s bodily fluids, including oral, semen and vaginal excretions.
    • Barriers like dental dams, for mouth protection during oral sex, are also best used after this waiting period, rather than during an unsafe time where there might be increased risk for exposure.

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about safer sex from the American Sexual Health Association.
  • Register for free one-hour webinars taking place in early December for men and women who have had bladder cancer. They are free and feature Dr. Daniela Wittmann from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Save the date, Saturday, Dec. 12, when the Cancer Center’s Community Outreach Program presents ‘Get Healthy Together,’ a breast and prostate cancer educational event. Dr. Wittmann will be speaking on sexuality and intimacy.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

vanessa thumbnailThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.