Infertility

Depending on the area treated, radiation therapy can temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children (fertility).

If infertility is a potential side effect, your radiation oncologist will discuss it with you before treatment starts. Let them know if you think you may want to have children in future and ask what can be done to reduce the chance of problems and whether you should see a fertility specialist beforehand. It is important to realise, however, that sometimes it is not possible to properly treat the cancer and maintain fertility.

Radiation therapy to the brain can affect the pituitary gland, which controls the hormones the body needs to produce eggs and sperm. Radiation therapy to the abdomen, pelvis and reproductive organs can affect the fertility of women and men in different ways.

Effects on women

Treatment to the pelvic area or abdomen can affect the ovaries and cause periods to stop permanently, leading to menopause and infertility. If you wish to have children in the future, talk to your radiation oncologist before treatment starts about ways to preserve your fertility, such as storing eggs or embryos.

Effects on men

Radiation therapy to the pelvic area or near the testicles may temporarily reduce sperm production. You may feel the sensations of orgasm, but ejaculate little or no semen. This is called a dry orgasm.

Semen production often returns to normal after a few months. For some men, the effect is permanent and causes infertility. If you want to father a child, you may wish to store sperm before treatment starts so your partner can conceive through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation in the future.

Radiation therapy may also affect the ability to get erections. Discuss this and any other fertility concerns with your radiation oncologist.

Many people experience a sense of loss when they learn they may no longer be able to have children. If you have a partner, talk to them about your feelings. Talking to a counsellor may also help. For more on infertility, call 13 11 20 or see Fertility and Cancer.

This information was last reviewed in December 2017
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