Coping with losing your fertility for women

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.  Not everyone is sure if they want children or not, but having the choice taken away can be very difficult to cope with.

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.

Other fertility options

There are other options you could consider if cancer has affected your fertility:

  • using donor eggs
  • using donated sperm so doctors can freeze embryos rather than eggs
  • using donated embryos
  • surrogacy (when another woman carries the baby for you)
  • adoption

These are difficult decisions and some options may not be straightforward. For example, some of them aren’t always funded by the NHS. There is also a shortage of donors. 

You can discuss these options with your fertility expert. Many people find it helpful talking to a counsellor about all the issues involved.

You can also read more about these fertility treatments on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) website. 

Getting help and support

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 available counselling and support groups. Speaking with people who understand and have gone through similar things can be a great comfort. 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. Ask your doctor or cancer nurse about this.

You may also find some of the books in our general reading list useful. Some are written by patients who have coped with infertility. They can give you support and ideas to help you come to terms with infertility.

You can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Cancer Chat

Cancer Chat is our online, fully moderated forum. It’s your safe place to connect with others affected by cancer, share experiences and get support. 

Cancer Fertility and Me

Cancer, Fertility and Me is a website for women with cancer who are having treatment that may affect their fertility and chances of becoming pregnant in the future. 

It is written by fertility doctors, specialist nurses, psychologists and other professionals.

It aims to help women think about the treatments which may help to preserve their fertility. It also aims to help women prepare to talk with their healthcare professionals, partner, family and friends about fertility preservation before cancer treatment starts. 

Fertility Network UK

Fertility Network UK have information on the emotional impact of infertility. They have

  • tips on coping strategies
  • information for partners and friends
  • support and guidance around life without children

Trekstock

Trekstock is a charity working to support the needs of young adults in their 20s and 30s who have been diagnosed with cancer. They have information and videos on their website about how cancer can affect fertility in women. They highlight a number of ways you can get support.

The Cancer Conversation

The Cancer Conversation is Cancer Research UK's podcast. In the episode exploring infertility and cancer, we chat with people whose cancer journey has had an impact on their fertility.

It also features Professor Richard Anderson, Deputy Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Reproductive Health. We explore options that are available and what the future of fertility medicine could look like.

Last reviewed: 
21 Oct 2021
Next review due: 
21 Oct 2024
  • Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) website

    Accessed September October 2021

  • Fertility Problems: Assessment and Treatment

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), last updated September 2017

  • Ovarian tissue cryopreservation for fertility preservation: clinical and research perspectives

    R Anderson and others 

    Human Reproduction Open, 2017. Pages 1-9

  • Oocyte and ovarian tissue cryopreservation in European countries: statutory background, practice, storage and use

    F Shenfield and others

    Human Reproduction Open, 2017. Pages 1-9

  • Fertility preservation for medical reasons in girls and women: British fertility society policy and practice guideline 

    E Yasmin and others

    Human Fertility 2018. Volume 21, Number 1

Related links