How chemotherapy affects women's fertility

Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely than others to cause infertility. Infertility means you can’t get pregnant.

Whether your infertility is temporary or permanent depends partly on the drugs you have and the dose. You can ask your doctors if the drugs you’re having are likely to make you infertile.

Even if your periods stop during chemotherapy, you might still be producing eggs and could still get pregnant. Chemotherapy drugs could harm the baby, so you should keep using or start reliable contraception. Your doctor should discuss this with you.

Temporary infertility

With temporary infertility, your periods may become irregular or stop during treatment. But they’ll go back to normal once your treatment is over.

This happens in about a third of all women whose periods stop because of chemotherapy. It takes about 6 to 12 months for your periods to go back to normal. It is important that you use effective contraception during this time to avoid becoming pregnant.

Permanent infertility

Permanent infertility is more likely if you have higher doses of the drugs. It’s also more likely in older women than young women – especially if you’re getting close to the age where you’d naturally have the menopause.

Some chemotherapy drugs can be very damaging to the eggs in your ovaries, so that none are left after treatment.  If this happens, you can no longer get pregnant and you might have symptoms of the menopause.

Early menopause

You may have an early menopause. Your periods become irregular and then stop completely. You may also have some of these symptoms:

  • hot flushes
  • dry skin
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of energy
  • less interest in sex
  • mood swings
  • feeling low

Depending on your type of cancer, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce symptoms of the menopause. HRT begins after the chemotherapy. But the hormones can't make you start producing eggs again, so they can't stop the infertility.

What you can do

You might want to talk to someone about permanent infertility. It can be very difficult to learn that you may no longer be able to have children. Some people find counselling helpful.

There might be ways to preserve your fertility, although this is easier for men than for women. You may want to speak to a fertility expert. You can also ask about other fertility options, such as donor eggs.

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.

  • Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
    Accessed August 2020

  • Cancer Prinicples & Practice of Oncology (11th edition)

    V T DeVita Jr., T S Lawrence and S A Rosenberg

    Wolters Kluwer 2019

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)

    J Tobias and D Hochhauser 

    Wiley Blackwell 2015

Last reviewed: 
27 Aug 2020
Next review due: 
27 Aug 2023

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