Cancer treatments can impact your ability to have children, this is known as fertility. Some cancer treatments can make it hard to have children such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery that harms the reproductive organs.
Chemotherapy can stop your ovaries from working causing infertility, which can be temporary or permanent. Whether this is temporary or permanent depends on the drugs you have and the dose.
Infertility means you can’t get pregnant.
Temporary infertility – your periods may become irregular or stop during treatment but go back to normal once treatment is over. It can take between 6-12 months for your period to go back to normal after completion of treatment.
Permanent infertility – this is more likely if you have higher doses of drugs and sometimes more common in older women, especially if they are getting close to the age where you would naturally have the menopause. Alternatively, some drugs are damaging to the eggs in your ovaries, leaving none after treatment. If this happens, then you can no longer get pregnant and you may have early symptoms of the menopause.
Early menopause – the drugs you take may cause an early menopause. Your periods become irregular and then stop completely. You may also suffer from other associated symptoms such as hot flushes, dry skin, vaginal dryness, loss of energy, less interest in sex, mood swings and feeling low. Your GP may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce the symptoms of menopause. HRT will begin after chemotherapy. HRT cannot make you start producing eggs again and therefore cannot stop infertility.
Ways to keep your fertility
There are possible options for preserving your fertility before cancer treatment, but you should discuss this with your doctor beforehand. The options include freezing embryos, freezing eggs and freezing ovarian tissue.
Want to learn more about cancer and fertility?
Visit cancerfertilityandme.org.uk – this website supports women with cancer and helps them to think about treatments that may help to preserve fertility.
Some cancer treatment can affect men’s fertility. Being infertile means you cannot have children.
Not all chemotherapy drugs can affect your ability to father a child, but some drugs can reduce the number of sperm count, affect the sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg and affect the production of the hormone, testosterone.
If chemotherapy makes you infertile, it will be difficult to tell whether this is permanent or not. To check your fertility, your doctor can do regular sperm counts for you when your treatment is over. It can take a few months or sometimes years for fertility to return to normal.
This term is used to describe collecting and storing your sperm for many years, which can be used later to father a child through fertility treatment. It is important to speak to your doctor about the risk of infertility before you start chemotherapy and other treatments and you can discuss the option of whether to use a sperm bank.
Questions to ask your doctor