How Cancer Treatment Affects Fertility

Although not everyone ends up having children, most people want to have the option. Cancer – and treatment for cancer – can sometimes make having a child more difficult, or can raise doubts about whether having children is the right thing to do.

Cancer treatment’s effect on your  fertility depends on the type of treatment you get. Fertility also depends on other factors, such as the type of cancer, where it is, your age and overall health, and your response to treatment.

It is always best to talk with your doctor, nurse, or another member of your cancer care team about fertility before treatment. There might be ways to save or protect your fertility. But during and after treatment, options are often more limited. (Parents of children with cancer should consider this, too. Their special concerns are addressed in Preserving Fertility in Children and Teens With Cancer.

If you want to try to preserve fertility, things to consider are:

  • Age
  • Type of cancer and stage
  • Type of cancer treatment
  • Safety of delaying the start of cancer treatment (some fast-growing cancers need to be treated right away)
  •  Religious or cultural beliefs
  • Cost

Most cancer survivors can still choose to become a parent if they become infertile as a result of their treatment. It  might not happen the way you expected, but if you can be flexible, you’ll find that there are options for planning a family.

Talking to your cancer care team about fertility before your treatment

Before you start cancer treatment, talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns you have about your fertility. An open discussion will help you plan your cancer treatment and know what to expect.

Sometimes your cancer doctor (oncologist) may not be well-informed about fertility problems, or may view  this issue as much less important than saving your life with cancer treatment. But you have a right to get your questions answered, even if it means getting a second opinion or seeing a specialist.

This is not a complete list of questions, but it should give you a good starting point as you begin talking with your doctor or nurse about having children.

  • Will this treatment have any short- or long-term effects on my reproductive system? If so, what kind of effects and how long are they likely to last?
  • Can anything be done to prevent infertility before I start cancer treatment?
  • Will any of the options to preserve my fertility interfere with my cancer treatment?
  • Should I speak with a fertility specialist before treatment?   If so, how can I find a good specialist quickly?
  • Once I finish treatment, how will I know if I am fertile or infertile?
  • How long should I wait after cancer treatment?

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015

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