- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Fertility and cancer
- Female fertility and cancer treatments
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. These drugs travel throughout the body and are designed to affect fast-growing cells such as cancer cells.
This means they can also damage other cells that grow quickly, including in the ovaries. If treatment reduces the total number of eggs, there is a high risk of infertility.
The risk depends on:
- the drugs used – some types of chemotherapy drugs are more likely to damage eggs than others
- the dose you are given – the risk of damage to eggs increases with higher doses and longer treatment times
- your age – the number and quality of eggs decrease with age.
Having chemotherapy can cause your periods to become irregular or even stop for a while, but they often return to normal within a year of finishing treatment. If your periods do not return, the ovaries may have stopped functioning permanently, causing early menopause.
Some chemotherapy drugs can affect your heart and lungs. If this causes long-term damage, it may make a future pregnancy and delivery more difficult. Your specialist will talk to you about what precautions to take during pregnancy.
Dr Ying Li, Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist, RPA Fertility Unit, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Dr Antoinette Anazodo, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital and Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW, and Lead Clinician for Youth Cancer NSW/ACT; Paul Baden, Consumer; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Maurice Edwards, Special Counsel, Watts McCray Lawyers, NSW; Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, InSync for Life, WA; Dr Michelle Peate, Program Leader, Psychosocial Health and Wellbeing Research (emPoWeR) Unit, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Women’s Hospital, The University of Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Kate Stern, Gynaecologist and Reproductive Endocrinologist and Head, Fertility Preservation Service, Royal Women’s Hospital Melbourne, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Resea ch Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Renee Van Den Bosch, Consumer.
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