Impacts of Cancer Treatment on Fertility

Cancer treatment & fertility at a glance

  • Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can all affect the male and female reproductive systems.
  • In general, the higher the dose and longer the treatment, the greater the chance for reproductive problems.

Cancer treatment impact for men

The various cancer treatments and how they affect male fertility include:

  • Surgery that removes one or both testicles may cause infertility. The location and scope of surgery influences risk.
  • Radiation also kills rapidly dividing cells in or around its target area. For example, radiation to or near the testicles can cause infertility or genetic damage to the sperm, but radiation to the chest will not. Radiation to the pituitary gland or hormone-producing areas of the brain may cause infertility by interfering with normal hormone production.
  • Chemotherapy kills rapidly dividing cells throughout the body – cancer cells and healthy cells. The man’s age, the type of chemotherapy, and the dose of the drugs can influence the risk. Certain chemotherapy agents are more damaging than others.
  • Bone marrow and stem cell transplants generally involve high doses of chemotherapy with or without full body radiation and, therefore, present a high risk of infertility.
  • Medication that targets certain cancer proteins can endanger fertility but some cancer medications appear to have no effect on male fertility. Be sure to talk about all of these issues with your physicians.

Cancer treatment impact for women

The various cancer treatments and how they affect female fertility include:

  • Surgery for gynecologic cancers such as uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancers that remove all or part of the reproductive system can eliminate the possibility of bearing a child.
  • Radiation can also damage the reproductive system if it is directed toward the pelvic area. The location and dose of radiation will influence the risk.
  • Chemotherapy can damage or destroy eggs. The patient’s age, the type of chemotherapy, and the dose of the medications will affect the outcome.
  • Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplants involve high doses of chemotherapy sometimes combined with full body radiation, presenting a very high risk of infertility due to ovarian and uterine damage that may eliminate future childbearing capacity.
  • Medication that targets certain cancer proteins can endanger fertility, though some cancer medications appear to have no effect on female fertility. However, these may impact pregnancy. Be sure to talk about all of these issues with your physicians.