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Sex, fertility and Hodgkin lymphoma

Men and women discussing Hodgkin's lymphoma

This page is about how treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma might affect your sex life and ability to have children. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Sex and Hodgkin lymphoma

If you have a very low platelet count during your treatment, intercourse may not be recommended because of the risk of bleeding. Discuss this with your doctor or nurse if you are not sure.

If you are a man having chemotherapy, you need to wear a condom. This is because semen can cause a stinging sensation in the woman's vagina if her partner is having chemotherapy. This means some of the drug may be coming through and doctors don't know enough about whether this could be harmful.

You need to make sure you use reliable contraception if you are a woman having chemotherapy. The drugs could damage a developing baby. Even if your periods have stopped it may be possible to get pregnant, so you need to take precautions.

Treatment and your risk of becoming infertile

Some chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma can cause infertility. If possible, doctors will use drugs that do not cause infertility. But the first priority is treating your Hodgkin lymphoma.

If you become infertile you will not be able to have children after your treatment. Having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant will almost certainly mean you will be infertile.

 

CR PDF IconYou can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with Hodgkin lymphoma section.

 

Your sex life and Hodgkin lymphoma

Unless you have a very low platelet count, there is no physical reason why having Hodgkin lymphoma or treatment should affect your sex life. But you will probably go through times when you do not feel like sex because you are too tired or have treatment side effects. If you have a very low platelet count, intercourse may not be recommended because of the risk of bleeding. Discuss this with your doctor or nurse if you are not sure.

If you are a man having chemotherapy, you need to wear a condom. This is because semen can cause a stinging sensation in the woman's vagina if her partner is having chemotherapy. This means that some of the drug may be coming through and doctors don't know enough about whether this could be harmful.

If you are a woman having chemotherapy, you need to make sure you use contraception to stop you getting pregnant. The drugs could damage the developing baby. Even if your periods have stopped, it may be possible to get pregnant so you need to take precautions.

If you would like more information about anything to do with coping with sex after treatment, contact our cancer information nurses. They will be happy to help.

 

Treatment and risk of infertility

Some chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma can cause infertility. If they can, doctors will use drugs that do not cause infertility instead of those that do. But they will want to make sure they use the drugs that are most likely to cure your Hodgkin lymphoma.

If you become infertile you will not be able to have children after your treatment. With some chemotherapy treatment, it is not possible for your doctor to be certain whether you will be infertile or not. This will depend on

  • The chemotherapy drugs you have
  • The total dose of each drug
  • Your age if you are a woman

Some drugs are likely to cause infertility but don't always do so. Some people may become infertile at a lower dose of a particular drug than other people. Some drugs cause temporary infertility. So your fertility may come back 6 months to a year after your treatment has finished. 

Treatment may cause you to have an earlier menopause than other women. So you may need to think about planning a family at a younger age than you otherwise would. Your doctor will tell you whether your chemotherapy is likely to cause an earlier menopause of make you infertile and answer your questions before you start your treatment. If you have a partner, you may want to see the doctor together so that you can both ask questions and discuss any fears or worries.

Infertility in men

Even if your treatment will stop you producing sperm, it may be possible for you to have sperm frozen and stored before you start your treatment. This is called sperm banking. Sperm banking means you will be able to have children in the future because the frozen sperm can be used to make your partner pregnant.

Teenage boys can also have sperm frozen. Their sperm can be stored for use in later years.

It is not always possible for men to have sperm stored. Sometimes men who have cancer have fewer sperm in their semen. There may not be enough to be worth storing. But you can have a sample tested to see.

Infertility in women

If you are a woman, the nearer you are to the age when you would naturally have the menopause (or change of life), the more likely it is that chemotherapy will make you infertile. But if your periods stop, or become irregular during your chemotherapy, this does not necessarily mean you will be infertile. Your periods may return to normal from six months to a year after treatment has finished.

There is ongoing research into ways to help women who have been treated with chemotherapy to keep their fertility. It is now possible to have eggs frozen, in much the same way that men can freeze sperm. You have to have hormones to stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs and this can take a few weeks, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Another promising research area is to freeze some ovarian tissue and then reimplant it into the body after chemotherapy has finished. This procedure is carried out under a general anaesthetic. Research into how well the ovarian tissue reimplantation works is still at an early stage. Having the procedure may delay the start of treatment for the lymphoma and so is not always possible.

There is detailed information about the different ways of keeping your fertility in our fertility and chemotherapy section. You may want to be referred to a doctor specialising in reproductive medicine for advice and information.

Infertility after transplant

Having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant will almost certainly mean you will be infertile afterwards. This can be very difficult to cope with if you really wanted to have children. There is information about coping with infertility lower down this page.

 

Early menopause

If your periods stop permanently after chemotherapy, this is called an early menopause. You may also have some of the following symptoms.

  • Hot flushes and sweats
  • Dryness of the vagina
  • Less interest in sex
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of energy
  • Mood swings, loss of concentration or just feeling low

Your doctor will probably offer you hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is treatment with hormones you would be producing naturally if you had not had an early menopause. These hormones are called oestrogen and progesterone. HRT can stop all the symptoms of early menopause. It can also help to prevent long term problems like thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and heart disease.

HRT can be taken as tablets or used as skin patches that are like plasters. The dose of hormones in hormone replacement therapy is lower than the dose you would normally produce if you had not had an early menopause. So you are very unlikely to have any side effects.

There is more information about hormone symptoms in our coping physically section.

 

Coping with infertility

It can be extremely distressing to find that the treatment you need means you will not be able to have children. It can seem very unfair to have to cope with this as well as with your cancer. Even for people who had not yet thought about having children, losing fertility can be very difficult to come to terms with. It can affect the way you feel about yourself. It will take time to come to terms with this change in your life. It is important to give yourself time to adjust and feel sad. Talking to someone close can help. But it can take time to be able to do this.

You may want to talk to someone other than your partner, family or friends. Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist or counsellor. Ask your doctor if you can be put in touch with some professional help if you think that would help you. To find out more about counselling, look at the counselling section. Our counselling organisations page has details of organisations that can give you information about counselling and also help you to find a counsellor in your area.

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Updated: 19 June 2013