What is ovarian cancer?
When abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide uncontrolled and eventually form a growth (tumor), it is known as ovarian cancer, if not diagnosed early, cancer cells gradually grow into the surrounding tissues. They may spread to other parts of the body.
There are different types of ovarian cancer. What kind of ovarian cancer you have depends on the type of cell it starts in.
Treatment of ovarian cancer and its impact on life
Treatments for ovarian cancer can have direct symptoms, such as vaginal dryness and pain during sex, and more systemic side effects, such as tiredness, weakness,
fatigue and nausea.
This article explains how ovarian cancer and its treatment can affect sex and also provides tips for managing these side effects.
The most common side effect of the treatment of ovarian cancer includes:
- Vaginal dryness
- Dyspareunia, or pain during sex
- Lower sex drive
- Difficulties with orgasm
- Diminished body image
- Many of these changes can occur as a result of treatment.
- The treatment may also cause anxiety and depression, impacting your sex life.
You may experience following side effects due to chemotherapy:
- Nausea and fatigue
- Depression or anxiety
- Mouth soreness
- Peripheral neuropathy — a type of nerve damage that can cause numbness
- Higher risk of infection, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Hair loss due to chemotherapy, may impact your perceived body image and this could affect her attitude to and desire for sexual activity.
- Chemotherapy may cause symptoms of menopause in women who have not experienced it earlier. Some of these symptoms, such as vaginal dryness and low mood, can impact your sex life.
Effect of surgery on sex life
Sometimes during the treatment of ovarian cancer, you may need a hysterectomy, a surgical procedure that removes the uterus, or an oophorectomy, which is the removal of one or both.
Removing the uterus or both ovaries can trigger early menopause in people who have not already experienced it.
You may temporarily refrain from having sex while recovering from surgery. Experts also recommend that a person should avoid sex for the first six weeks after a hysterectomy.
However, recovery times depend on the surgical procedure and your overall health before surgery.
Effect of hormone therapy on sex life
This therapy blocks cancer cells’ hormone receptors to prevent their growth. Oncologists use this treatment for certain types of ovarian tumors. This treatment may have side effects that interfere with your sex life. Some side effects of hormone therapy for cancer include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes to the menstrual cycle
- Joint or muscle pain
- Hot flushes
- Radiation therapy
Effect of radiation therapy on sex life
some side effects of radiation therapy for ovarian cancer can affect a person’s sex life. These include:
How long do side effects last?
The side effects of different types of treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, can go away fast, but some may take months or years to disappear completely. Sometimes treatment may cause long-term damage to the reproductive organs, and the side effects may be permanent.
If you experience side effects related to sexual health, or the side effects are not going away after treatment ends, you should speak to your oncologist. The doctor will give you medicine to solve this problem.
It can be difficult to predict how long the impact of treatment lasts on your sexual life. Some side effects can affect your sex life even after the end of treatment. Although, it is quite possible to regain sexual activity after ovarian cancer treatment. Some factors may play a significant role in recovering sexual activity.
It has also been found that those with a positive self-image are more likely to be sexually active after treatment and they achieve higher levels of sexual satisfaction.
Another factor is the length of time since the original diagnosis. If a diagnosis has been made earlier, there are high chances of resuming sexual activity quickly.
The emotional impact of undergoing cancer treatment can affect your body image and mental health, even after treatment has ended.
Everyone has their stamina, and they recover accordingly. Regaining previous sexual satisfaction level also varies from person to person and how they respond to the treatment.
How to manage side effects and improve sex life
You can often take steps to manage your sex life during ovarian cancer treatment. The following advice may help you improve your sexual satisfaction. For Vaginal dryness, you should try using lubricants, vaginal estrogen, vaginal moisturizers,
Some tips to manage painful sex
- Try best positions that help control penetration
- Use lubricants
- Communicate with your partner about your feelings. What do you like and what don’t.
- You can take experts’ help for pelvic physical therapy or pelvic rehabilitation, this therapy can help you relax your vaginal muscles and reduce pain during sex.
If the treatments for ovarian cancer have impacted your vagina, You should try pelvic floor exercises. This will help increase blood flow to the area and strengthen the pelvic muscles, making sex more comfortable.
If radiation therapy has affected your vagina, you can use a dilator to help prevent or reverse scarring.
Diagnosing ovarian cancer and undergoing treatment can affect your mental health, body image, and partner intimacy.
Counselling for those who are struggling with sexual health issues is critical. You can also join a support group to share your ideas. A therapist may benefit your sex life and overall health.
Counseling is vital in helping with mental trauma caused by cancer and its treatment. At ZenOnco.io, we have experienced mental coaches who help to deal with these issues. They aim to determine the relationship between appreciating the body, hope and mental health.
Tips to support your partner
Open communication about sex, and look for other ways to be intimate, including massages, showers, and other activities that allow for close contact. You may try different positions that may be more comfortable.
Effect of ovarian cancer on the reproductive system
Ovarian cancer takes place in the ovaries, which means all cases affect the reproductive system. You have a high risk of becoming infertile if your doctors use surgery or radiation to remove or destroy cancer.
You should discuss with your doctor about your fertility concerns and not assume that the doctor will raise the issue.
Ovarian cancer and its treatment can impact your sexual health negatively, this may be direct side effects such as pain during sex, vaginal dryness or more systemic symptoms, such as hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and pain.
You can have a fulfilling sex life even with ovarian cancer. Some side effects of treatment can be addressed through medication, exercises, or therapy and counseling. Open communication with your partner can improve your sex life.
You should speak with your oncologist and gynecologist about your concerns regarding ovarian cancer and complications related to sex. The doctor can help reduce the impact of treatment on your sex life and improve your sexual health during and after treatment.