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Sex, fertility and cancer drugs

Cancer drugs can cause changes to your sex life and fertility. But there might be ways to deal with some of the side effects.

How cancer drugs can affect your sex life and fertility

Doctors use many different types of drugs to treat cancer. Some drugs can cause changes to your sex life. Some might stop you from being able to become pregnant in the future. This is called infertility.

Not being able to have a child in future can be particularly difficult to cope with if you were planning to do so. And worries about the effect of a cancer drug on your sex life and relationship with your partner can affect your quality of life.

For at least the first two years after you had finished treatment, doctors can't say for sure whether you will be infertile or not. This is because the sex organs might not work for a while.

Chemotherapy

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes to fertility. How much, will depend on:

  • the type of drug, for example, some alkylating drugs like cyclophosphamide are more likely to cause infertility
  • the total amount of the drug you have had over time (cumulative dose)

Hormone therapies

Some hormone therapies for cancer interfere with:

  • the menstrual cycle in women
  • the production of sperm in men

This will change fertility But in most people, fertility comes back once you have finished treatment.

Other treatments

There is not enough research yet to know how targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates can cause changes to fertility. But if you are worried, use a condom while on treatment or speak to your doctor.

It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while taking any type of cancer drug. The drugs may harm a baby developing in the womb.

Other factors

There are many other factors that might also play a role in fertility after cancer treatment. These are:

  • your type and stage of cancer
  • whether you had radiotherapy or surgery to your sexual organs
  • your age
  • your sex
  • genetic factors
  • whether you have an underactive thyroid after cancer treatment

Women’s sex lives and fertility

Cancer drugs can lower some women’s sex drive for a while. This might be due to:

  • tiredness
  • hormone changes
  • other side effects

Sex life

Your sex drive will usually go back to normal some time after the treatment ends.

Some chemotherapy drugs can lower the amount of hormones your ovaries make. This may cause early menopause for some women.

Some hormone therapies can also cause early menopause. You might get menopausal symptoms even if you have already had your menopause.

Targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates do not seem to cause early menopause or affect your sex life.

Fertility

Some types of chemotherapy can cause early menopause. This can stop you from being able to become pregnant in the future. Talk to your doctor about this before your treatment.

It is sometimes possible to store eggs or embryos before treatment.

There is not enough research yet to know how targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates affect fertility.

Hormone therapies do not usually cause permanent infertility.

Men’s sex lives and fertility

Sex life

Some cancer drugs can lower some men’s sex drive for a while due to tiredness or other side effects. Your sex drive will usually go back to normal soon after the treatment ends.

Some types of chemotherapy reduce the amount of male hormone (testosterone) made by the testes. This also usually goes back to normal some time after the treatment ends.

Some men with prostate cancer have treatment with hormone therapies to lower testosterone levels. Hormone therapies can reduce your sex drive. You might not be able to get or keep an erection. You may also get breast swelling and tenderness.

Targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates do not seem to cause changes to your sex life.

Fertility

Some types of chemotherapy can stop you from being able to father a child in the future. Talk to your doctor about this. It is sometimes possible to collect and store sperm before treatment.

There is not enough research yet to know how targeted cancer drugs, immunotherapies and bisphosphonates can cause changes to fertility.

Hormone therapies do not usually cause permanent infertility. 

Contact our cancer information nurses for more information on sex and fertility after cancer drug treatment on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
24 Jan 2020
  • Electronic Medicines Compendium
    Accessed January 2020

  • Cancer, pregnancy and fertility: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    Peccatori FA and others
    Annals of Oncology 24 (Supplement 6): vi160–vi170, 2013

  • Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management
    NICE guidelines, 2019
    Accessed January 2020

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)

    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg

    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2019

  • Cancer Treatment-Related Infertility: A Critical Review of the Evidence

    P Poorvu and A Frazier

    JNCI Cancer Spectrum. 2019;3(1):pkz008.

  • Overview of infertility and pregnancy outcome in cancer survivors

    E Cardonick and others

    UpToDate website

    Accessed January 2020

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular side effect you are interested in.

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