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Sex, fertility and Hodgkin lymphoma

Get more information about sex and fertility issues after Hodgkin lymphoma treatment.
 

There is no physical reason why having Hodgkin lymphoma or its treatment should affect your sex life. But you will probably go through times when you don’t feel like having sex because you are too tired, or you have other side effects of treatment.

Contraception during treatment

It is important to use reliable contraception during treatment. Getting pregnant while you (or your partner) is having treatment is not a good idea, because the drugs might harm the baby.

Even if you are using other forms of contraception, you should also use barrier contraception. We don't think any of the drugs would get into your bodily fluids, but there is a small chance that they could. So you need to use barrier contraception to protect your partner.

Women and infertility

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can affect a woman’s fertility by stopping the ovaries from producing eggs. If this happens, you won’t be able to become pregnant and may have symptoms of the menopause. Although if your periods stop, or become irregular during your chemotherapy, this does not necessarily mean you will be infertile.

 If you have an early menopause, your doctor might offer you hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce menopausal symptoms. 

HRT

HRT replaces the hormones you would normally produce – oestrogen and progesterone. Having HRT doesn’t mean you will produce eggs but you may still have a period each month. HRT can also help to prevent longer term problems like thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and heart disease.

You take HRT as a tablet or you can have a skin patch, like a plaster (bandaid). The dose of hormones is lower than you would normally produce if you had not had an early menopause. So you are very unlikely to have any side effects.

Research

There is ongoing research into ways to help women keep their fertility when having chemotherapy.

Men and infertility

Chemotherapy can affect a man’s fertility by:

  • reducing the number of sperm you make
  • affecting the ability of the sperm to fertilise an egg

This may be temporary or may mean you can no longer father a child.

Even if your treatment will stop you producing sperm, it may be possible for you to have sperm frozen and stored before you start treatment. This is called sperm banking. It means you could be able to have children in the future.

Infertility after a transplant

Permanent infertility is almost certain if you have intensive treatment, such as a stem cell transplant. Your doctor will tell you if it is likely you will become infertile. If you have a partner, you might want to see your doctor together so you can both discuss any fears or worries. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being well informed can help you cope. 

Coping with infertility

It can be extremely distressing to find out that your Hodgkin lymphoma treatment will stop you being able to have children. It can seem very unfair to have to cope with this as well as your lymphoma. Even if you hadn’t thought about having children before, losing your fertility can be very difficult to cope with. It can also affect how you feel about yourself.

It takes time to adjust. You need to give yourself time to come to terms with it.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you.

Help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist or counsellor.

You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday
Last reviewed: 
30 Dec 2014
  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2010
     

  • Essential Haematology (6th Edition)
    Victor Hoffbrand and Paul Moss 
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
     

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