© 2005-2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.
Sometimes, cancer treatment can decrease fertility or cause infertility (not being able to have children) for women who have not yet been through natural menopause and for men. These effects may be temporary or permanent. The risk of infertility from cancer treatment depends on several factors:
- The type and dose of drugs used
- The dose of radiation given and where on the body it is being directed
- The type of cancer
- The patient's age and sex
- Whether a patient had fertility problems before cancer treatment
For women who have not been through menopause, menstrual periods may become irregular or stop during cancer treatments. Fertility may be decreased even if regular menstrual periods continue during treatment or return after treatment. In addition, cancer treatment can cause premature menopause, which shortens the length of time a woman is able to have children. For men, decreased fertility may continue for years because the body is making sperm more slowly or has stopped making sperm altogether.
For children who have been diagnosed with cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery all can have lasting effects on a child's reproductive health and cause temporary or permanent infertility. The risk depends on your child's treatment plan based on the diagnosis.
It is important to talk with the doctor about your concerns about fertility before treatment begins. Not all cancer treatments harm fertility, but if the treatment does include a risk of infertility, there are ways to decrease or prevent this risk. The chances for maintaining fertility are greatest if you discuss and think about the options as early as possible. That is why it is important to ask for a referral to a reproductive specialist immediately after being diagnosed with cancer.