- Cancer, sex, and sexuality
- How the male body works sexually
- How pelvic surgery to treat cancer can affect erections
- How pelvic radiation therapy can affect erections
- How chemotherapy can affect erections
- The psychological effects of cancer treatment on erections
- How cancer treatment can affect ejaculation
- How cancer treatment can affect fertility
- How cancer treatment can affect sexual desire and response
- How cancer treatments can affect sexuality and fertility
- Dealing with sexual problems
- What treatments are available to help with erections?
- When is sexual counseling helpful?
- Can testosterone restore sexual functioning?
- What about herbs or natural cures for erection problems?
- Is there a way to make orgasms as intense as they used to be?
- Special concerns linked to certain cancers and their treatment
- Feeling good about yourself and feeling good about sex
- Chemotherapy also changes the way you look
- Overcoming depression
- Dealing with grief and loss
- Good communication: The key to building a successful sexual relationship
- Overcoming anxiety about sex
- Rekindling sexual interest
- Sexual activity with your partner
- Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment
- The single man and cancer
- Men who have sex with men
- Frequently asked questions
- Professional help
- American Cancer Society programs
- To learn more
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