Cancer treatment: how does it affect fertility?

Louise Spence
Oncology Nurse Adviser, Bupa UK
20 July 2021
Next review due July 2024

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, you might have a lot of questions. Worries about your fertility (your ability to have a baby) can be top of the list for many people. Here I’ll describe how cancer can affect fertility, and the options that may be available to help with this.

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Does cancer cause infertility?

The treatments you may need for your cancer can cause problems with your fertility. But this is often only temporary. Sometimes though, loss of fertility following cancer treatment can be permanent. If this is a possibility, your healthcare team will discuss it with you before any treatment.

Deciding to go ahead with a treatment that you know might impact your fertility can be tough, but your healthcare team will support you. If having children is important to you, they’ll do as much as they can to preserve your fertility.

How do cancer treatments affect fertility?

Different cancer treatments affect fertility in different ways.

  • Chemotherapy may damage eggs in the ovaries, or affect sperm production. It might be temporary or permanent, depending on which drugs you have, and the dose.
  • Radiotherapy to the pelvis can damage reproductive organs including the womb, cervix and ovaries. It can also affect sperm production. Radiotherapy on the pituitary gland in your brain can also affect the production of eggs or sperm.
  • Hormonal therapy can stop periods and affect sex drive and erections. These problems are usually temporary.
  • Surgery of your pituitary gland in your brain will affect your fertility. Surgery may also affect your fertility if it involves your reproductive organs.

Whether fertility problems are likely to affect you depends on the type of cancer you have and the exact treatment you’re having. Other factors such as your age and how near to menopause you are, are also important.

How can I preserve my fertility?

If having children is important to you, your doctor might be able to give you a treatment that’s less likely to affect your fertility. In some cases, your doctor may be able to give you hormone medicine to protect your ovaries or testicles.

If there’s time before starting treatment, your doctor may refer you to a fertility clinic. They’ll talk to you about preserving your ability to have children. You may be able to have your eggs, embryos (fertilised eggs) or ovarian tissue stored, or your sperm collected.

Trying for children after cancer treatment

You’ll need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy during your cancer treatment. You’ll need to carry on for some time after too. This is because cancer treatments can harm an unborn baby. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to wait before trying for a baby after finishing treatment.

You’ll have follow-up appointments with your doctor or nurse after treatment. You can talk to them about your fertility. Or book an appointment with your GP, who can provide support and talk to you about next steps.

Other helpful websites

Nobody likes to think about being diagnosed with cancer. But our health insurance gives you personal cancer care with support at every stage of your treatment for as long as you have a policy with us. Learn more about our health insurance.

Louise Spence
Louise Spence
Oncology Nurse Adviser, Bupa UK

    • Fertility in women. Macmillan Cancer Support., reviewed 1 July 2019
    • Fertility in men. Macmillan Cancer Support., reviewed 1 July 2019
    • How chemotherapy affects women's fertility. Cancer Research UK., last reviewed 27 August 2020

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