Sometimes cancer and its treatment can affect your fertility, such as your ability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy.

Infertility and cancer treatment

Sometimes cancer and its treatment can affect your fertility, such as your ability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy. Infertility can be very significant and distressing. At the time of diagnosis parenthood may not be your priority but steps can be taken to protect your fertility for the future. Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, it’s your right to have a conversation with your care team about fertility and explore your options.

What causes infertility?

The impact of cancer and its treatment on fertility depends on your type of cancer and treatment. It is sometimes difficult to predict who will become infertile as individual outcomes vary. Effects on fertility depend on the chemotherapy agent, dose, length of exposure and age of the individual.

What are the symptoms of infertility?

Fertility issues will depend on the type of cancer and treatment you have:

  • women may not produce enough eggs, have problems with the hormones signalling between the brain and the ovaries, or have damaged reproductive organs
  • men may experience fertility issues related to sperm production and quality – for instance, the sperm may not have the right characteristics or there may be issues related to sperm transport (such as movement (motility) and blocked pathways that carry sperm)

Sometimes reproductive organs are removed during an operation.

How can infertility be prevented/managed?

Your care team will discuss any risk to your fertility before you start treatment. Even if you aren’t sure what you want, it’s important that your care team knows if fertility is a priority for you.

The most effective and established means of preserving fertility in people with cancer includes egg and embryo cryopreservation for females and sperm cryopreservation for males before cancer treatment starts. If appropriate you may be referred to fertility specialists, who are doctors with additional training and experience in managing fertility. They are sometimes called reproductive endocrinologists.

There are ways to overcome infertility. Many people have medical procedures to help them conceive – these are known as assisted reproductive technology or fertility treatments. There are also other options available if you don’t want to use fertility treatment.

Your care team can provide further information on options related to fertility or refer you to specialist support services.

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