- 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 treatment starts about your risk of infertility and ways to preserve your fertility. It may be possible to store your eggs or sperm for use in the future.
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 additional children, and you may worry about the impact of this on your relationship or future relationships. Even if your family is complete or you weren’t planning to have children, you may experience strong emotions.
As well as talking with your partner, it may help to talk with a counsellor, sex therapist, oncologist, urologist or oncology nurse.
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 have children naturally.
Depending on the type of chemotherapy drugs used and the dose, periods may become irregular but often return after treatment ends. In some cases, periods stop permanently and lead 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 men may not get strong erections again. If the problem is ongoing, ask your doctor about storing 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 the production of sperm and affects 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.
For more on this, see our Fertility and cancer.
Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, inSync for Life, WA; Anita Brown-Major, Occupational Therapist, Thrive Rehab, VIC; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Consultant, Gynae-oncology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Headway Health and Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Kath Schubach, Urology Nurse Practitioner, President – Australia and New Zealand Urological Nurses Society (ANZUNS), VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Maria Voukelatos, Consumer. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.