About Us









Sexual Function and Cancer | Image Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Physical Therapy Can Mitigate the Effects of Cancer on Sexual Function

Sexuality can be a big part of who we are as individuals. Sexual function can be defined as “specific physical, physiological, neurological and emotional behaviors expressed by an individual response”.5 Sexual function and cancer can have an important and detrimental relationship.  There are certain cancers that can unfortunately affect our sexual health, including cervical, ovarian, bladder, kidney, colorectal and breast cancer to name a few.

Some cancer treatments can cause unwanted side effects that affect our sexual health such as decreased sexual arousal or desire, vaginal stenosis (narrowing of the vaginal canal), dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), and bladder/bowel dysfunction. This can affect our relationships with ourselves and with our partners, and reduce quality of life.

Hopefully a physical therapist is part of your team to help guide you during this challenging time and minimize these aforementioned side effects. Otherwise, ask for a pelvic floor physical therapist to join your team during your recovery! 

Sexual Function and Types of Cancer

Sixty-seven percent of those diagnosed with gynecological cancer suffer from dyspareunia. In other cancers that are not directly related to genitals can experience sexual dysfunction. In those diagnosed with breast cancer, 50-75% also have pain with sexual intercourse. Common symptoms after bladder or kidney cancer surgeries include decreased sexual desire, decreased ability to achieve orgasm, decreased lubrication, and dyspareunia. Some kidney surgeries bypass the abdominal surgical approach and attempt to remove kidney or tumor intravaginally, which is a less invasive approach. As you can see, the pelvic floor musculature is a very involved player in promoting healthy bladder and bowel function. More importantly, pelvic floor muscles are crucial in sexual function. 

Sexual Function and Cancer Treatments

Radiation, immunotherapies, chemotherapy, antihormonal therapies (usually in breast cancer) and surgery are some of the common cancer treatments. Each type of treatment may increase the likelihood of some type of sexual dysfunction, whether it be pain, decreased sensation, decreased arousal and desire, or vaginal stenosis. Pelvic organ prolapse, a bulging or sensation of something falling in the vaginal canal, can also occur as a result of a shift in organs and or decrease in integrity of the fascia that helps support pelvic organs, and can also lead to pain with sexual activity. There are strategies to help counteract these symptoms, as well as manual therapy to help improve pelvic floor muscle integrity and thus improve symptoms! One systematic review in 2020 found moderate level evidence supporting the rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles following gynecological cancer treatments.

Physical therapy sessions would incorporate the following to help improve sexual function: 

One study found that an intervention program that consisted of education, manual therapy, specific pelvic floor exercises, development of a home exercise program, and incorporation of a dilator program improved patients’ pain level, pelvic floor symptoms, quality of life, and overall sexual functioning. Remember, you are not alone in experiencing these symptoms and there is help. If you have any questions sexual function and cancer or any other topics, no matter where you are in your journey, it is not too late to seek help from a pelvic floor physical therapist. 


  1. Arthur SS, Dorfman CS, Massa LA & Shelby RA. Managing female sexual dysfunction. Urologic Oncology. 2021; 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urolonc.2021.06.006                 
  2. Brennen R, Lin KY, Denehy L & Frawley HC. The Effect of Pelvic Floor Muscle Interventions on Pelvic Floor Dysfunction After Gynecological Cancer Treatment: A Systematic Review. Phys Ther. 2020;100:1357-1371.
  3. Chang YC, Chang SR, Chiu SC. Sexual Problems of Patients With Breast Cancer After Treatment. A Systematic Review. Cancer Nursing 2019; 42(5): 418-425.
  4. Cyr MP, Dumoulin C, Bessette P, Pina A et al. Feasibility, acceptability and effects of multimodal pelvic floor physical therapy for gynecological cancer survivors suffering from painful sexual intercoures: A multicenter prospective interventional study. Gynecologic Oncology 159 (2020) 778-784. 
  5.  Wood F. Human Sexuality in Health and Illness. 3rd ed. St Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby; 1984.
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

** This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. **

What They Say About Us

  • Testimonials

    • Testimonial by S.H., age 24

      I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me for the past 19 months. I literally could not have reached my goals without you and your practice. You gave me the courage to keep moving forth with my treatment no matter how afraid and anxious I was. You were always there to answer questions and made this whole process so much easier than I expected it to be. It's because of you that my marriage is on the right track, that I can get pregnant and that this part of my life is finally...

      Read more Testimonial by S.H., age 24

  • Testimonials

    • Testimonial by A.W., age 32

      I wanted to let you know that my pelvic floor held strong and gave me no trouble whatsoever in my trail race this morning (12 miles)! In a way, I felt like I ran better than ever because my core feels so rock solid from all the exercises you have me doing. That was especially valuable on the technical downhill - I just flew down the trail because I had confidence in my balance and form. Thank you for helping me get back to doing what I love. -- A.W., age 32 (completed Post-partum Renewal...

      Read more Testimonial by A.W., age 32

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get access to our free downloads and a 15% discount on Heather's book "Sex Without Pain"!
I agree with the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy policy