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Coping with losing your fertility

You may be dealing with changes to your fertility.

Loss of fertility can be a side effect of some cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy). This means that you will no longer be able to get pregnant. It might be temporary but sometimes it is permanent. Infertility can be very hard to come to terms with. The sense of loss can be strong for people of all ages.

Options before treatment

It is important to discuss your fertility with your doctor before starting 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 might want to join in during the discussion. That way you can both talk over your feelings and discuss your options. 

Before starting treatment it might be possible to store (freeze):

  • an embryo (fertilized egg)
  • an oocyte (unfertilised egg)
  • ovarian tissue  

The fertilisation rate for frozen eggs is low, but it is improving as researchers develop better techniques.

Research is looking into removing ovarian tissue and freezing it before chemotherapy starts. The idea is that after treatment, the ovarian tissue can be put back. If the ovarian tissue then starts working normally, eggs can be produced and so fertility is preserved. 

It is still too early to tell if this will work well enough to be more widely available. But, so far, the results look promising. At the moment there are only a few centres in the UK offering this service. Talk to your doctor if you want to know more. 

Your feelings

It can be very difficult to learn that you might no longer be able to have children. People might react in different ways. It can be devastating if you wanted to have a child, or wanted more children. Some people are able to accept it and feel that coping with 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.

You may feel you have lost a part of yourself and are less feminine if you can't have children. You may be very sad or angry that the treatment has caused changes to your body. Your self confidence may be affected.

It might help to talk to a relative or friend about how you are feeling. 

You and your partner might want to speak to a counsellor specialising in fertility issues. 

You can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Last reviewed: 
30 Jul 2018
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