Colorectal Cancer and Your Sex Life: The Facts of Life

As a colorectal cancer patient, your sex life may not get a lot of attention, but it should.

Colorectal cancer can affect your sex life in a number of ways. Physical discomfort, emotions, and changes in your body – all of these issues can impact you and your partner. 

Colorectal cancer and its treatment can cause:

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

  • Nausea

  • Digestion problems

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Depression

  • Sadness

  • Pain

  • Mouth problems

  • Changes in appearance

  • Surgical scars

  • Changes in your sex hormones

It’s no wonder that many colorectal cancer patients experience a range of intimacy issues, depending on the type of treatment. 

Men may experience periods of low testosterone after chemotherapy, erection problems, or a reduced sperm count after radiation to the pelvic area. 

Women may experience sudden menopause after chemotherapy or surgery to have their ovaries removed during their rectal surgery. 

For some patients, the concerns about dealing with an ostomy during intimacy leave them fearful and withdrawn. Patients who are trying to start a family may find themselves suddenly facing infertility due to treatment or surgery. 

While all of this may sound daunting, many options and helpful resources are available for patients and survivors. You're not alone with your concerns!

Take a look at some of our tips to get you started:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss sex with your doctor or nurse, especially after surgery and ending treatment. Ask if it’s safe to be sexually active, when you can resume sex after surgery, or for help with any issues you may encounter. We promise you're not the only one, and they've heard it all before! If you're embarrassed to ask at an appointment, consider sending them an email.

  • You can also discuss fertility preservation with your doctor. Not all doctors will bring this up, as this may affect your treatment plan, but you must ask if you are concerned. Read also: Fertility Preservation: The Good, The Ugly & Giving Cancer the Middle Finger

  • It’s not known whether chemotherapy drugs can be passed to your partner through bodily fluids. Since chemotherapy stays in your body for a while after treatment, be sure to exercise caution regarding sexual activities. Using protection such as condoms can help control the exchange of fluids.

  • Have open and honest communication with your partner about your life as a patient or survivor. This is key, especially when it comes to sex. Be open about what you're comfortable with and concerns you may have, even if it seems difficult. Don't be afraid to consider different types of sexual expression, such as massage, especially if you're just finishing treatment.

  • If you have an ostomy, check out the United Ostomy Association for questions or concerns about sexual intimacy and ostomies.

Need someone to talk to? While sexuality can be a sensitive topic, you always have a safe space to speak to others who know what you’re going through. Whether you want to talk toother survivors in our Blue Hope Nation community, you feel more comfortable speaking to a few people in our online chats or you’d just like to have a one-on-one conversation with a Certified Patient Support Navigator, we have your back!

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