Can Ovarian Cancer Affect Your Sexual Health?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Ovarian cancer can affect every part of your life in very personal ways. One of the ways includes sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction with ovarian cancer can decrease quality of life.

What is sexual dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction is any problem with sexual satisfaction. Different types of sexual dysfunction include:1

  • Lack of sexual desire or interest
  • Problems becoming physically aroused during sexual activity
  • Problems with orgasm
  • Pain with sex

Researchers estimate that at least half of women treated for gynecologic cancers experience sexual dysfunction.2

Research also shows that doctors often overlook sexual health issues in women with gynecologic cancers. Many do not include sexual quality of life in their care. This may be because they do not know how to discuss it, or they may simply overlook it since it is not something they usually treat.2

What causes sexual dysfunction in ovarian cancer?

The physical and mental issues of ovarian cancer may contribute to sexual dysfunction. Surgeries can make intimacy more challenging, and your hormone levels might be affected by treatments. Side effects like fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, or pain may also interfere with sexual health.3

Treatment for advanced ovarian cancer may also cause surgical menopause. This can cause side effects like decreased sexual desire and vaginal dryness.3

Living with ovarian cancer can increase your risk of depression or anxiety. These feelings may also lower sexual desire. Many treatments may also cause changes in your body, such as hair loss, that can impact self-esteem.3

How is sexual dysfunction treated?

If you are having issues with sexual functioning, it may feel embarrassing to talk about with your doctor – and that is okay. Doctors know that sexuality is part of life, and just because you have ovarian cancer does not mean you have to live without sex. There are options to help improve your sex life.

Ask your doctor about medicines or products that may help make sexual health easier or more comfortable. This can include:4

  • Vaginal lubricants
  • Estrogen creams
  • Vaginal creams to soothe dryness
  • Exercises to help strengthen pelvic muscles, ease pain, and help with bladder and bowel function

If you have treatment side effects like fatigue, pain, nerve pain, or nausea, ask your doctor about symptom relief. These side effects can impact your health in many ways, including sexual behavior.

Counseling or support groups can also be good resources for advice. A sexual health educator can talk with you about ways to manage your sexual health and changes in your body that can affect sexuality. Ask your doctor if you need a referral or if resources are available at your treatment center.

Things to consider

Talk openly with your partner about your struggles, both mental and physical. This helps them understand that you are not rejecting them.

It may also help to shift your mindset. Intercourse is not the only way to be intimate. You and your partner may find new ways to be intimate that fit your comfort level and needs.

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