Being diagnosed with cancer impacts everything – your health, your family, your life and your future. As you begin to weigh up treatment options, it’s important to understand how each treatment fights cancer and its potential side effects. Chemotherapy, one of the most common cancer treatments, kills rapidly growing cancer cells. This treatment does have side effects though. Here, we explain the effects of chemotherapy on men.
Chemotherapy effects your whole body. The parts of your body that are most often effected by chemotherapy include the digestive tract, hair follicles, bone marrow, the mouth and the reproductive system. Along with physical changes to your body such as hair loss, you may also experience internal changes and symptoms like fatigue, light headedness, difficulty thinking, feeling cold and general weakness. These symptoms are often a result of the reduction in red blood cells that may occur as a result of chemotherapy, putting you at risk of developing anaemia.
Some of the drugs you need to take during chemotherapy may also affect the nerves in your hands and feet. This condition is called peripheral neuropathy. You may experience symptoms like tingling or numbness or feeling pins and needles. While this is usually temporary, it can be permanent.
When you are undergoing chemotherapy, you may experience thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia occurs when you have a low platelet (cell) count in your blood. This makes it difficult for your blood to clot, causing you to bruise and bleed easily. The symptoms of thrombocytopenia include nosebleeds, blood in vomit and blood in stools.
Chemotherapy can affect your hormone levels. In men, low testosterone is one of the most common hormonal issues you may experience when undergoing chemotherapy. Having low testosterone can have several effects on your body including reduced libido, low sperm count, erectile dysfunction, and gynecomastia (developing male breasts). These conditions can occur if a man’s testosterone levels are low resulting in higher than normal estrogen activity. If these conditions do not subside after chemotherapy, your hormone levels can be addressed with treatments that rebalance the levels of testosterone and estrogen in your body.
Sexual side effects
With the effect that chemotherapy can have on your hormone levels, you may feel disinterested in sex and experience other sexual side effects. These other effects include:
- erectile dysfunction;
- difficulty climaxing;
- orgasm without discharge (dry orgasm);
- weaker/less satisfying orgasms;
- pain during sex;
- less energy for sexual activity; and
- feeling less attractive.
Men may also experience a decrease in libido and have difficulty with sex due to the damage to nerves that some chemotherapy drugs can cause. Damage to the nerves as a result of chemotherapy drugs is called neurotoxicity. This can affect your ability to get and keep an erection. Based on the drugs you are prescribed; your medical professional will be able to discuss with you whether you are at risk of this side effect.
Understanding the effects of chemotherapy on your mental and physical health is important for making an informed decision about how to move forward with treatment. While some of these side effects are confronting, there are things you can do to improve your quality of life as you undergo treatment. Speak to your medical professional about your treatment and the side effects you are most at risk of experiencing as you make a decision about your treatment.