Sexuality, relationships and blood cancer

In this blog, our Nurse Advisor, Fiona, discusses how your leukaemia diagnosis may impact your sexuality and also advises on how to minimise risks of infection through safe sex.

Issues with sexuality are one of the most important quality of life concerns for people undergoing treatment for blood cancer. Sexuality is complex, as it includes intimacy, body image, sexual desire and the ability to have sex, and is linked to our need for caring, intimacy, closeness and touch.

Sexuality is a very personal matter and means different things to different people. Physical changes caused by chemotherapy such as weight loss or gain, changes in skin colouring, hair loss, hormonal changes, energy levels, fatigue and the functioning of sexual organs all influence feelings about sexuality and sexual appeal.

Cancer and its treatment can affect the relationships you have now and any you may make in the future. These changes may impact on your sexuality. Your role in the family may change and your relationship with your partner may change too. For a while you may not be the main breadwinner and these changes can affect your sexual self-esteem. You both may worry about having sex again if you’ve had a break from it for a while. Your sex drive may have also changed since treatment. The most important thing is to maintain honest, open communication with your partner about what both of you need and can achieve.

If you are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, it is recommended that you protect yourself and your partner from the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs. You or your partner should use a condom during sexual intercourse while you are having the course of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is dangerous to unborn babies and this will also protect you and your partner from any chemotherapy drugs that may be present in semen and/or in the vagina.

Cancer can change you physically and cause many emotions such as fear, depression and anger. These intense feelings might affect how you feel about sex and about yourself. Feeling attractive to others might be important whether you are in a relationship or not. This means getting used to the changes yourself first. It can be a little more difficult if you don’t have a partner to support you. It might be helpful to talk to a relative or friend.

Guidelines for safe sex

  • You should have a single partner rather than multiple partners in order to minimise getting an infection
  • Your partner should be well, that is, they should not have cold sores, influenza, a cold or a sexually transmitted disease
  • Your platelet count should be greater than 50 x 10(9)/L
  • Use condoms during and for three months after your treatment because they lessen the risk of getting an infection
  • Use birth control as chemotherapy is dangerous to unborn babies

Sex is a normal part of most people’s lives. Talking to a partner about sex can be difficult, but discussing your fears and worries about sex can help you both feel more comfortable with each other. If you want help for sexual problems, talk to your GP or specialist nurse.

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