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Men's fertility and chemotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page is about chemotherapy and fertility in men. It includes

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Not all drugs affect fertility. But some can reduce the number of sperm you produce or affect the sperm's ability to fertilise an egg. If you are infertile, it may be temporary or permanent and mean that you will no longer be able to father children.

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the nerves in the genital area. This can temporarily make it difficult for you to get or maintain an erection. This usually gradually gets better once treatment is finished.

It is important to use contraception throughout your treatment. It is not advisable to father a child while you are having chemotherapy – the drugs could harm the baby.

If your treatment is likely to cause infertility, you may want to store some sperm before you start chemotherapy. The sperm can be stored for many years in a sperm bank. You can father a child later, as part of fertility treatment.

It is important to talk to your doctor about the risk of infertility before you start chemotherapy. You can then make decisions about whether to bank sperm.

If chemotherapy has made you infertile, it can be difficult to tell whether this is permanent or not. Some men stay infertile. Others find their fertility comes back. Your doctor can do regular sperm counts for you when your treatment is over.

 

How chemotherapy can affect your fertility

Not all drugs affect fertility in men. But some can

  • Reduce the number of sperm you produce
  • Affect the sperm's ability to fertilise an egg

If this happens it may be temporary or permanent and mean that you will no longer be able to father children. Whether it is temporary or permanent depends on the drugs you have, the doses you have and your age. Permanent infertility is more likely if you have higher doses of the drugs. 

It is important to use contraception throughout your treatment. It is not advisable to father a child while you are having chemotherapy – the drugs could harm the baby.

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the nerves in the genital area. This can temporarily make it difficult for you to get or maintain an erection. This usually gradually gets better once the treatment is finished.

Usually you can still get an erection and have an orgasm as you did before your treatment. Chemotherapy drugs don't normally have any permanent effect on your sexual performance or your enjoyment of sex.

 

Sperm banking

If your chemotherapy treatment is likely to cause infertility, you may want to bank sperm before you start treatment. The sperm can be stored for many years. In the future, you can use it to father a child through fertility treatment. 

If it is possible for you to bank sperm, you will need to produce several samples over a few weeks. These are frozen and stored. You will usually be tested first for infections such as hepatitis and HIV. Sperm banking is not always available on the NHS and there may be a charge.

When you and your partner want a baby, the samples are thawed and used to inseminate your partner. Inseminate means putting your sperm into your partner to start a pregnancy. Many people have had healthy babies after fertility treatment following chemotherapy.

It is important to talk to your doctor about the risk of infertility before you start chemotherapy. You can then make decisions about whether to use a sperm bank. Teenage boys are also able to store sperm. Some men may have very low sperm counts due to their cancer and then it may not be possible to store sperm. Sometimes your doctor may want to start your treatment very quickly. In this case it may not be possible to store sperm or to store only one sample

 

Checking your fertility

If chemotherapy has made you infertile it can be difficult to tell whether this is permanent or not. Some men stay infertile but others find their sperm returns to normal and their fertility comes back.

It can take a few months or sometimes years for fertility to return to normal. To check your fertility, your doctor can do regular sperm counts for you when your treatment is over.

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Updated: 18 April 2013