How cancer affects fertility

Some types of cancer, and cancer treatments, can affect your ability to have children (your fertility). This is the case for both females and males. This does not happen to everyone – it depends on your individual situation.

It’s not always possible to predict whether your fertility will be affected, or if it’s temporary or permanent. It’s important to use contraception during and after treatment to prevent an unexpected pregnancy. 

Having fertility preservation treatment might allow you to have children in the future. This treatment often needs to happen quite quickly, before you have cancer treatment, which means you may have to make a decision with limited time.

Fertility preservation treatment may or may not be the right choice for you, but you’ll get a better sense of this by getting the information and exploring your options as best you can. Talk to your nurse or doctor, as they can help you explore the possibilities. Having this open and frank discussion, and helping you access appropriate fertility preservation treatment, is seen as an important part of good cancer care. 

How cancer treatment affects fertility in women

The possible effects on your fertility depend on the type of cancer treatment you have, and which parts of your body are involved.

Some types of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or hormone treatment can affect your ovaries, damaging your eggs. This can lead to an early menopause.

If your womb (uterus) or vagina is being treated, this can also cause fertility problems. During and after cancer treatment, some women also feel less confident or interested in sex. Our information on relationships and sex talks about these aspects of adjusting to life after a cancer diagnosis. 

Fertility preservation treatment for women

Depending on your diagnosis and your situation, you might be able to save some of your eggs before your cancer treatment starts. These frozen eggs can be used to try for a child in the future.  

Freezing an embryo (an egg that is fertilised with a man’s sperm) may be another option. If you freeze an embryo, permission is needed from both partners at every stage, including if you want to you use it in the future.

Sometimes it is possible to freeze tissue from an ovary that contains immature eggs. This tissue can then be placed back in your body after cancer treatment, to try and get your ovaries working again. Ovary tissue freezing is only available in a few centres in the UK: if you want to find out more, ask your cancer team whether this option is available. It’s still seen as a technology that’s in development, although more than 80 babies have been born worldwide using this method. 

How cancer treatment affects fertility in men

Some kinds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can reduce or stop sperm production. This may be temporary, but for some men it is permanent.

Radiotherapy or surgery might lower your sex drive or it make difficult to have an erection. It depends on the treatment and what part of your body is involved. Hormone treatment or chemotherapy can also affect your sex drive, erections and fertility. Check out our information on relationships and sex, which talks about these issues. 

Fertility preservation treatment for men

Depending on your diagnosis and your situation, you might be able to freeze some of your sperm before your cancer treatment starts, in case you want to father children in the future. 

Published: December 2016
Review due: December 2019