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Sex, fertility and ALL

sex and fertility with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia image

This page is about sex and fertility after acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Your sex life and ALL

It is important to use contraception during treatment. It is not advisable to become pregnant while you (or your partner) are having treatment because the drugs might harm the baby. Even if you are taking the pill, you should use barrier contraception to make sure your partner is safe. We don't think any of the drugs would get into your bodily fluids, but there is a small chance that they could.

Fertility after ALL treatment

Most of the treatments for ALL are likely to make you infertile. Permanent infertility is almost certain if you have more intensive treatment. Your doctor will tell you if it is likely you will become infertile. If you have a partner, you may want to see your doctor together so that you can both discuss any fears or worries.

Coping with infertility

It can be extremely distressing to find that your leukaemia treatment means you will not be able to have children. 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. Some people find it helps to speak to a counsellor or a therapist. Your doctor or nurse can put you in touch with professional help if you would like it. Don’t be afraid to ask, as it really can help.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with ALL section.

 

 

Your sex life and ALL

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

It is important to use contraception during treatment. It is not advisable to become pregnant while you (or your partner) are having treatment because the drugs might harm the baby.

Even if you are taking the pill, you should use barrier contraception to make sure your partner is safe. 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 protect your partner.

There is more information about sex, sexuality and cancer in our coping with cancer section.

 

Fertility after ALL treatment

If you haven’t had children you may be concerned about your fertility. Most of the treatments for ALL are very likely to make you infertile.

Your doctor will tell you if it is likely you will become infertile. If you have a partner, you may want to see your doctor together so that you can both discuss any fears or worries. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being well informed can help you cope. 

Women and infertility

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

Radiotherapy can also affect your fertility, this includes total body irradiation. Even small doses of radiotherapy to the ovaries can stop them producing eggs. Radiotherapy can also affect the womb so that it is unable to support a baby.

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.

Radiotherapy can also affect fertility so that you can no longer produce sperm.

Unfortunately, treatment for ALL often has to start very quickly, so it is not usually possible to bank sperm beforehand.

Doctors are researching new treatments that aim to reduce the risk of infertility but still cure the leukaemia. A study in 2006 looked at the effect of stem cell transplant on men’s sperm. It found that a small number of the men started producing sperm again, especially if they were under 25 years of age. This is promising but we need more research, as it is not certain that this meant that they would be able to father a child.

Remember it is important to use contraception during treatment. Becoming pregnant or fathering a child during treatment may affect the baby. If you don’t want to have a baby, you should continue to use contraception after treatment until you know for certain that you are infertile.

You can find more information about fertility in the following sections

 

Coping with infertility

It can be extremely distressing to find out that your leukaemia treatment will stop you being able to have children. It can seem very unfair to have to cope with this as well as your diagnosis. 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 feel sad and come to terms with it. Talking to someone close to you is usually helpful, although you may not be able to do this for a while.

You may want to talk to someone other than your partner or family members. You may find it helps to speak to a counsellor or a therapist. Your doctor or nurse can put you in touch with professional help if you would like it. Don’t be afraid to ask, as it really can help.

If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look at the counselling organisations page. To find out more about counselling, look in the counselling section.

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Updated: 19 May 2015