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About fertility and chemotherapy

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This page tells you about how chemotherapy may affect your fertility. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

About fertility and chemotherapy

Some chemotherapy drugs cause infertility. This means that you can't have children. It may be temporary or permanent. It depends on the drugs you have, your age and other factors. Many people go on to have healthy children after treatment. But some chemotherapy drugs can cause permanent infertility, especially in high doses.

It is important to discuss the risk of infertility with your doctor before you start your treatment. Sometimes it is possible for your doctor to suggest treatment which is less likely to cause infertility. If you have a partner, you can ask them to join the discussion.

Men having chemotherapy may want to consider sperm banking before starting treatment. You may be able to father a child by using the sperm later, as part of fertility treatment.

Women who have a partner can have fertilised eggs (embryos) frozen for use in later fertility treatment. It is also sometimes now possible for women to have unfertilised eggs frozen. The fertilisation rate for this is low, but is improving as researchers develop better techniques.

Infertility can be very hard to come to terms with. People react and cope differently. Our section about coping emotionally may help you find ways to manage your feelings.

It is possible for a woman having chemotherapy, or the female partner of a man having chemotherapy, to get pregnant during treatment. It's important to avoid pregnancy during chemotherapy and for a while afterwards as the drugs could harm a developing baby. Always use reliable contraception.

You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Fertility and Chemotherapy section.

 

How chemotherapy affects fertility

Some chemotherapy drugs cause infertility. This means that you can't have children. It may be temporary or permanent, depending on the drugs you have, your age and other factors. Many people go on to have healthy children after chemotherapy. But some chemotherapy drugs can cause permanent infertility, especially in high doses.

It is important to discuss the risk of infertility with your doctor before you start your treatment. Sometimes it is possible for your doctor to suggest treatment which is less likely to cause infertility. If you have a partner they will probably want to join in during the discussion. Then you both learn all the facts and have the chance to talk over your feelings and choices for the future.

Men having chemotherapy may want to consider sperm banking before starting treatment. You may be able to father a child by using the sperm later, as part of fertility treatment.

Women who have a partner can have fertilised eggs (embryos) frozen for use in later fertility treatment. It is also sometimes now possible for women to have unfertilised eggs frozen. The fertilisation rate for this type of treatment is low, but it is improving as researchers develop better techniques.

Researchers are looking into removing ovarian tissue, freezing it before chemotherapy starts and later putting the tissue back so that women can regain their fertility after chemotherapy. This is still experimental at the moment, and so is not widely available. But if you are interested, you could talk to your specialist about it. You may be able to take part in some of the research. There is more about how women can keep their fertility in this section.

 

Your feelings about infertility

Infertility can be very hard to come to terms with. But people react differently to it

  • It can feel devastating if you wanted to have a child, or wanted more children
  • Some people are able to accept it and feel that beating cancer is more important
  • Others seem to accept the news calmly when they start treatment, but find it hits them later when the treatment is over

Many people feel anxious, afraid or depressed about how their lives are affected by cancer and treatment. These feelings can start with something small, such as having to change your daily routine to fit in with the treatment. Or something more obvious such as treatment side effects, or the risk of infertility.

If you feel low or worried it can help to know that you're not alone. Many cancer patients have felt as you do at some time during their treatment. Like them, you can overcome feeling afraid or discouraged.

You may feel you have lost a part of yourself and are less masculine or less feminine if you can't have children. You may be very sad or angry that the drugs have caused changes to your body. Your self confidence can be affected. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative. Or you may prefer to talk to someone outside your circle of family and friends.  Ask your chemotherapy nurse about counselling and support groups available at your hospital or in your area. You can also look in our counselling section for information about finding a counsellor.

You and your partner may want to speak to a therapist or counsellor specialising in fertility problems. Speak to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist or check the general organisations list for organisations that can help put you in touch with a support group. We have a section about your emotions and cancer that you may find helpful.

You may find books in the general reading list useful. Some of these books are written by patients. They may help you to come to terms with infertility and other problems of chemotherapy. Other patients who have coped with infertility can give you support and ideas. Just speaking with other people who have gone through similar things can be a great comfort – you realise you are not alone.

 

Pregnancy and contraception

It is possible for a woman having chemotherapy, or the female partner of a man having chemotherapy, to get pregnant during treatment. It's very important to avoid pregnancy during chemotherapy and for a while afterwards.The chemotherapy drugs could harm the developing baby. So always use reliable contraception if there is any chance that you or your partner could become pregnant. 

If you are a woman having cancer treatment, and have been taking the contraceptive pill, check with your doctor whether it is safe for you to continue. The pill can slightly increase the risk of a blood clot (thrombosis) in some people. If you can use it, the pill is a very reliable form of contraception. Barrier methods may be safest if you have a risk of blood clots, for example

  • Condoms
  • The cap

There is no evidence that chemotherapy treatment will affect your sexual partner. But there is a small chance that the drug could find its way into your body fluids. Doctors don't know for sure, so they advise using barrier contraception (condom) throughout a course of chemotherapy and for a week or so afterwards. This applies whether it is the man or the woman having cancer treatment.

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Updated: 17 April 2013