Sexuality for the Man With Cancer

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How cancer treatment can affect fertility

Some cancer treatments make men infertile (unable to father a child). Total body irradiation (as used in stem cell or bone marrow transplant) and radiation treatment to an area that includes the testes can reduce both the number of sperm and their ability to function. This doesn’t mean that pregnancy can’t happen, but it becomes far less likely.

Some types of chemo can damage the sperm over the short term, while others can cause life-long infertility. It depends on the types and doses of the drugs used. The short-term changes have been shown to last about 3 months after the last treatment. Because the risk of birth defects due to sperm damage is hard to study, there’s not much information about this link. To reduce this possible risk, doctors often recommend that a man use careful birth control during chemo and for some months’ time after treatment ends. So far, no studies have reported increased birth defects or cancers in children naturally conceived from fathers who had cancer treatment in the past.

Several types of surgery to the pelvic and genital area can cause infertility. If both testicles are removed, for example, sperm cells are no longer made and a man becomes infertile (or sterile). See the sections called “How pelvic surgery to treat cancer can affect erections” and “How cancer treatment can affect ejaculation” for information on the types of surgery that can cause infertility.

If you want to father a child and are concerned about fertility, talk to your doctor before starting treatment. One option may be to bank (save and preserve) your sperm. (See our document called Fertility and Men With Cancer for more on this.) If you aren’t sure about your wishes to be a father in the future, you may want to work with a sperm bank to learn more about the procedure and its costs.

Last Medical Review: 08/19/2013
Last Revised: 08/19/2013