How cancer treatment can affect fertility
Some cancer treatments can affect your ability to have children in the future. Find out more about how this might impact you and what support is available.
Fertility means your ability to have children
Whatever your sexuality or gender identity, you can always speak to your care team about your fertility
It’s important to talk to your doctor and understand the likely effects of your treatment
What is fertility?
Fertility means your ability to have children. When you’re young and diagnosed with cancer, you need to think about lots of things you probably haven’t thought about before.
Even if kids are the last thing on your mind right now, in the future you might feel differently. And there are things you can do now to increase your chances of having a family in the future.
Whatever your sexuality or gender identity, you can always speak to your care team about your fertility. They should be able to answer any questions you have about how treatment may impact your fertility, and the options available to you now and in the future.
How does cancer treatment affect fertility?
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can affect your fertility, and so can surgery on parts of the body involved in reproduction – like ovaries and testicles.
Plenty of people have these treatments and go on to have kids – but it’s important to talk to your doctor about the likely effects of your treatment.
If you have testicles, cancer treatments can sometimes impact your fertility by:
Affecting your sperm production
Affecting the production of hormones involved
Damaging nerves and blood vessels in your groin, making it difficult to get an erection or come.
If this could happen to you, it might be possible to freeze your sperm now in a sperm bank – making it more likely that you could still have a family in the future. You can find more information on sperm banking on the next page, and you can ask your doctor any questions you might have.
If you have ovaries and you’ve started having your periods, cancer treatment can sometimes impact your fertility by:
Affecting the production of hormones involved in reproduction
Affecting your ovaries
Damaging the lining of your womb, or requiring your womb to be removed if you have certain types of cancer
It’s also possible for chemotherapy to put you into early menopause (the menopause is the time women stop producing eggs).
If any of these things could happen to you, it might be possible to freeze embryos (eggs that have been fertilised), eggs or tissue from your ovaries to use in the future. You can find out more about egg freezing later in the guide, and you can always ask your doctor any questions you might have.
What will happen to my periods?
Your periods might stop or become irregular during your treatment, but this doesn’t mean there’s no chance of you having children. Periods often come back after treatment is over. Chat to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist about this if you’re worried.
What is early menopause?
Another potential side effect of cancer treatment is that you might experience early menopause. The menopause affects people with a uterus and ovaries. It’s what happens when your periods stop and your ovaries no longer make any eggs. This usually happens when you’re around 45-55 years old but it can also happen earlier as a result of cancer treatment.
You can find out more about early menopause here.
Being diagnosed with cancer when you’re pregnant can be really worrying. It’s important you speak to your care team about your pregnancy and treatment plan.
It’s not a good idea to try to have a baby during cancer treatment, as the treatment could harm your baby. If you do have sex during treatment, make sure you use protection. You can chat to your doctor or nurse about the best type of contraception for you (they talk about things like that every day, so there’s no need to be embarrassed). Brook also have lots of information on sexual health and wellbeing which you might find useful.
It’s usually best to wait a while before trying to get pregnant after treatment, so check with your doctor or clinical nurse specialist if you’re thinking about starting a family.
Mummy’s Star is a charity dedicated to supporting women and birthing people diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy or within 12 months of giving birth.
What is fertility preservation?
Fertility preservation is when you have either your eggs or sperm frozen and stored so they can be used in the future to help you have a baby. Your care team should talk you through this, and explain your options. You can always ask questions to make sure you understand everything properly.
Can I have my fertility tested?
After cancer treatment, you can have tests to check your fertility levels. It’s worth thinking carefully about this and maybe chatting to someone close to you about how you would deal with any bad news you might get.
You might prefer not to be tested, or to wait until you’re a bit older.
And remember that infertility caused by treatment can be temporary – so your first test result isn’t necessarily a final result. It’s a good idea to wait at least six months to a year following treatment to check fertility to give your body time to recover.
Questions to ask
When you talk to your doctor about fertility, you might like to ask:
Will treatment affect my fertility?
Will it affect my fertility permanently or temporarily?
Will the treatment affect my periods?
What contraception is best to use during treatment?
What fertility treatments might be possible after treatment?
How long after treatment should I wait before trying to get pregnant?
Are there any other treatments that might work?
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The Patient Information Forum is the UK membership organisation and network for people working in health information and support. The PIF TICK is the UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information.