- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Fertility and cancer
- Female fertility and cancer treatments
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill cancer cells or damage them so they cannot grow and multiply. It can be delivered from outside the body (external beam radiation therapy) or inside the body (usually brachytherapy).
The risk of infertility will vary depending on the area treated, the dose of radiation and the number of treatments.
- Radiation therapy to the pelvic area (for cancer of the rectum, bladder, cervix, uterus or vagina) can stop the ovaries producing hormones. This results in temporary or permanent menopause. If your ovaries don’t need treatment, one or both may be surgically moved higher in the abdomen and out of the field of radiation. This is called ovarian transposition or relocation (oophoropexy), and it may help the ovaries keep working properly.
- Radiation therapy to the pelvic area can also affect the uterus, make sexual intercourse uncomfortable, and increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.
- Radiation therapy to the brain may damage the pituitary gland, which releases hormones that tell the ovaries to release an egg each month. This may affect ovulation.
If you are treated with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy (chemoradiation), the risk of infertility is higher.
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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