Bladder Cancer Blog

What to Know About Bladder Cancer and Intimacy

  • It’s important to share any concerns with your cancer care team.

    When you have bladder cancer, it’s common to worry that your sex life could change. Some bladder cancer treatments may affect sexual function or your sex drive. It’s important to know that you can still enjoy intimacy after cancer treatment.

    Information and support can help you cope with these issues. You may also need to make some adjustments in your sex life. That’s why it’s important to share any concerns you have about your sexual health with your cancer team before, during, and after your treatment.

    Intimacy after bladder cancer

    Some cancer treatments, like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove the bladder, can affect how a person experiences sexual intimacy. Treatment—and communication—can help.

    Here are some common sexual side effects related to bladder cancer and its treatment—and some advice to help you cope.

    Erectile dysfunction (ED)

    Bladder cancer surgery can disrupt the pelvic nerves that control an erection. Treatment options for ED may include medications; injections you give yourself that can increase blood flow to the penis; vacuum erection devices; and surgery, if other treatments don’t work.

    Vaginal pain.

    Surgery or radiation for bladder cancer can cause or increase vaginal dryness and pain during sex. Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers may help ease painful sex. If treatment leads to scarring that makes the vagina too short or narrow, a vaginal dilator may make penetration more comfortable.

    Urostomy surgery.

    After surgery to remove the bladder, some people with bladder cancer may need a urostomy to collect urine in a pouch outside the body. If you’ve had a urostomy, you might feel less confident about your body image, or you might feel nervous about your partner’s reaction. It may help to:

    ● Let your partner know you can safely have sex. This helps reduce any anxiety your partner may have. If you have a new partner, let them know about your ostomy before sexual contact.

    ● Empty your urostomy bag before sex to reduce the chance of a leak.

    ● If it makes you feel comfortable and confident, consider wearing an intimacy wrap or a nightie to secure and cover your pouch.

    Emotional concerns.

    Cancer can bring on stress, anxiety or depression, as well as concerns about your body image. Any of these mood changes can affect your sex life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may find it helpful to talk to a counselor.

    If you’re in a relationship, it’s also important to share your feelings and concerns with your partner. Communication can help you cope with emotions around intimacy. If you need to adjust your sex life, you and your partner can discuss new ways to be intimate and to feel pleasure. For instance, touching is another way for couples to enjoy closeness.

    It’s good to talk about it

    If you experience these issues or other side effects that affect sexual health or intimacy, let your doctor know. They can offer treatment or advice. And they can help connect you to the resources you need.

    At Fox Chase Cancer Center, the experts at the Fox Chase Survivorship Program have experience helping cancer survivors with a wide array of issues, including sexual health concerns. Call 1-888-369-2427 to learn how Fox Chase can help you.