Cancer Can Affect a Man’s Fertility

How cancer treatment can affect fertility

Some cancer treatments can affect a man’s ability to father a child. For example, total body irradiation (as used in stem cell transplant) and radiation treatment to an area that includes the testicles 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. But to be safe, doctors often recommend that a man use careful birth control during chemo and for some months’ time after treatment ends.

So far, research has not shown 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 Cancer Can Affect A Man's Erections and Cancer Can Affect A Man's Ability to Ejaculate for information on the types of surgery that can cause infertility.

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

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.

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Last Medical Review: February 24, 2017 Last Revised: February 24, 2017

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