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Colon Cancer

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Blue ribbon, Colon Cancer awareness

What We Will Explore

This article will explore the sexual health effects of treatments for colon cancer, rectal cancer, and colorectal cancer (bowel cancer). We will also provide resources for the physical, mental, and emotional changes that may affect sexuality and intimate relationships.

Everyone is different, as is every type of cancer and its treatment; thus, you will need a customized sexual health plan. We care very much about your health, and while we provide beneficial information and products for sexual health, it is always recommended that you first consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are nurturing your specific health needs.

How Does Colon Cancer Start?

Colon cancer forms in the large intestine (colon) which is the final part of the digestive tract. It is typically found in older adults, which is why those over the age of 50 begin having colonoscopies to test for it. The cancer begins as polyps which are clumps of noncancerous cells (benign). With time they can form into cancerous cells. When colon cancer begins in the rectum, it is called colorectal cancer, which combines both colon and rectal cancer.

During a colonoscopy, doctors can remove polyps before they turn into cancer. If it has already developed, they can perform surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy to treat it.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Typically people do not have symptoms of colon cancer which is why it is so important to be tested. Below are symptoms that can develop:

  • Changes in your regular bowel movements such as diarrhea, constipation, or general inconsistencies.

  • Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding.

  • Regular abdominal cramping, pain, or gas.

  • Feeling like you can't completely finish bowel movements (as though you still need to go).

  • Unexplained weight loss.

  • Fatigue or weakness.

 Colon Cancer Diagram

Ways To Prevent Colon Cancer

Sexual Issues With Colon & Rectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer treatments can cause sexual dysfunction, yet it is not often discussed. This is part of your quality of life, and a good healthcare team should be discussing the impacts various treatments may have on you sexually. Just under half of all cancer survivors experience a decrease in sexual functioning and more than half have body image concerns that impact their sexuality, so it is quite common.

Make sure to discuss any sexual health concerns as well as sexual products you may want to use to help you heal from your treatment with your physician. Because conversations like this may feel sensitive to discuss, feel free to use our helpful guide for tips: How to Talk To Your Doctor About Sex.

Sexual Issues Based On Treatment

Radiation Therapy

This treatment can cause a decrease in vaginal lubrication, vaginal stenosis (vagina becomes narrower and shorter), dyspareunia (painful sex), ovarian failure, and a reduction in libido. This treatment can also impact the penis and result in erectile dysfunction (ED) issues.


This treatment can cause an increased risk of vaginal infection, mucositis (mouth or vagina becomes sore and inflamed), decrease in vaginal lubrication, vaginal stenosis (vagina becomes narrower and shorter), dyspareunia (painful sex), fertility issues, reduction in libido, and increased sensitivity to spermicide. This treatment can also contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). 


Adhesions can occur (scar tissue where tissues or organs heal in a manner that stick together). They can cause abdominal discomfort with cramping and distention. They may form from rectal or colon surgery and affect the vagina is in a specific position. This may increase the risk of infertility via a pelvic exenteration (hysterectomy). Erectile dysfunction (ED) may result from this treatment.  

Types Of Sexual Issues From Treatment

Erectile Dysfunction & Dry Orgasms

If erectile dysfunction is an issue, there may be difficulty being able to get an erection or hold one. In addition, there may be an issue of having dry orgasms (orgasming without ejaculation). Dry orgasms can feel better, the same or not as pleasurable. Please see our Erectile Dysfunction Guide for more helpful information.

Vaginal Dryness & Pain During Sex

Due to bowel cancer treatment, the vagina may shrink by getting more narrow or shorter. Vaginal dilators are often recommended to gently stretch the vaginal tissue so that sexual penetration may be possible without pain during sex. Vaginal dilators are ideal when they have a curved shaft and taped head. We carry a variety of the newest and more advanced dilators available.

Using a healthy lubricant while using dilators is a must. In addition, Kegel weights may be helpful to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. Discuss any lubricant or sexual product you use with your physician before using it to determine if it is suitable for your specific health concerns.

Anal Sex

Anal sex may or may not be possible after colon cancer treatment. Changes may be temporary or permanent and should be discussed with your doctor as it will depend on the extent of cancer, the treatment you received, and the risks afterward. Many cancer patients can have anal sex; however, specific details of what will be healthy for you should be reviewed. You may wish to discuss using dilators before full anal penetration. If you want to use any anal sex toys after treatment, you should review the type, shape, and size as well as lubrication with your healthcare provider before using them to protect your health and healing.

Additional Resources

We have put together an extensive guide for cancer patients and survivors on addressing sex and cancer and invite you to explore the resources, products, and tips that may be helpful to you and a partner if you have one.

Please see Sex With Cancer Guide for more helpful information. 

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