Having a baby after cancer treatment

After finishing cancer treatment, lots of people worry about whether they can have children, and if there will be any effects on the baby.

This section talks about ways to have a child with medical help. It also explains why a parent’s previous cancer treatment is very unlikely to affect the baby.

If you want to know more about ideas like fostering or adoption, check out our information on other options for parenthood.

Checking your fertility 

If you are wondering about your fertility, you can ask your team about this at any stage of your cancer treatment or follow-up.

You can have fertility tests to check your ability to have children. It’s important to talk this decision over with a nurse, doctor or counsellor, and to make sure you are giving your body enough time to recover before you try a test. 

Getting pregnant naturally

It’s important not to get pregnant during cancer treatment as there’s a risk the treatment could harm an unborn baby. This is true whether you’re male or female. However, many people go on to have children after cancer treatment, without any special help. A lot depends on the type of cancer treatment you had. It’s not always possible to predict whether you can have children or not. So if it’s unclear, use contraception until you’re sure you are ready to try for a baby. 

If you’ve had chemotherapy to the pelvis or testicles, it’s important to continue using contraception for a few months after treatment finishes, as the potentially harmful effects of treatment on an unborn baby may still be there.  

Having a baby with fertility treatment

It’s not guaranteed to work for everyone but many people are now parents, thanks to help from fertility treatment. If you need medical help to have a baby, there are several ways to consider. The choice will depend on which approach offers the best chance of success for you.

  • During intrauterine insemination (IUI), a doctor gently places a sperm sample in a woman’s womb. She might be the father’s partner, or a surrogate (a woman who volunteers to carry the baby in her womb on behalf of the parents). The sperm might be from the father, or it can be given by a donor. It might be fresh, or taken from storage. 
  • With in vitro fertilisation (IVF), eggs and sperm are mixed together in a laboratory, in an attempt to form an embryo. The eggs or sperm can be yours, your partner’s, or from a donor. Sometimes an embryo is frozen before a woman’s cancer treatment, to try and start a pregnancy later on. The embryo can be placed in the mother’s womb, or it can be carried by a surrogate.
  • Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is another method. Under a microscope, a single sperm is injected into an egg.  If fertilisation happens, the embryo can be placed in the womb of the mother or a surrogate.

Safety for your baby

If you’ve had chemotherapy in the past, this does not appear to increase the risk of birth defects or health problems for your baby. We know this from several medical studies.

Having past radiation treatment that affected your womb might make it more difficult to carry a baby to full term. This does not happen to everyone, and it depends on your own situation. Talk to your doctor about what you might expect, and what kind of medical care they would advise during pregnancy.

For most parents who had cancer treatment, there is not an increased risk of their baby getting cancer. If you are worried about your family having a high risk of cancer, talk to your cancer follow-up team. 

Published: December 2016
Review due: December 2019