- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Fertility issues
Some cancer treatments can cause infertility (difficulty conceiving a baby), which can be temporary or permanent. If fertility is important to you, talk to your doctor before your treatment starts about the risks and your options. It may be possible to store your eggs, embryos, ovarian tissue or sperm for use in the future.
Learn more about:
- If female reproductive organs are affected
- If sperm production is affected
- Tips for managing fertility and treatment
When people learn that they may be permanently infertile, they often feel a great sense of loss. You may be devastated that you won’t have your own children or have more children, and you may worry about the impact of this on your relationships. Even if your family is complete or you didn’t want children, you may experience strong emotions. This can change how you feel about yourself as a sexual being and affect your sexuality.
As well as talking with your partner, it may help to talk with a counsellor, sex therapist, your GP or your cancer treatment team.
For more on this, see Fertility and cancer.
If female reproductive organs are affected
Surgery that removes part or all of the reproductive organs, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix, will cause your periods to stop and you will be unable to conceive a child.
Depending on the type of chemotherapy drugs used and the dose, periods may become irregular but they often return after treatment ends. In some cases, periods stop permanently, leading to menopause.
If sperm production is affected
Surgery for bladder, prostate or testicular cancer may damage the nerves for getting and keeping an erection. This may be temporary, but some people may not get strong erections again, or have permanent erection issues. If the problem is ongoing, ask your doctor about collecting sperm.
Chemotherapy may reduce or stop sperm production and affect the ability of sperm to move. This can sometimes cause temporary or permanent infertility.
If you have radiation therapy in the pelvic or groin area, you may have temporary or permanent fertility problems after treatment. If your testicles are outside the treatment area, they can usually be protected. Radiation therapy to the brain may damage the pituitary gland, which affects both the production of sperm and sex drive.
Tips for managing fertility and treatment
- If you think you may want to have children in the future, discuss ways to preserve or protect your fertility with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins.
- Share your feelings about any fertility issues with your partner, who may also be worried or grieving.
- Ask your doctor what precautions to use during treatment. You may need to use barrier contraception, such as condoms or female condoms, to reduce any potential risk of the treatments harming a developing baby or being toxic to your partner.
- Tell your cancer specialist immediately if you or your partner become pregnant during treatment.
- Consider having tests to check if your fertility has been affected.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
Dr Margaret McGrath, Head of Discipline: Occupational Therapy, Sydney School of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andreea Ardeleanu, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker, Cancer Counselling Service, Canberra Health Service, ACT; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Kerrie Clover, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-Oncology Service, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Maree Grier, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Mark Jenkin, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Margaret Redelman OAM, Medical Practitioner and Clinical Psychosexual Therapist, Sydney, NSW; Kerry Santoro, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse Consultant, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services – Austin Health, Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.