Cancer types and treatments that can affect fertility – for females

On this page you’ll find general information about how different cancer treatments may impact on your fertility.


How can having cancer affect my fertility?

Not all cancers or cancer treatments affect future fertility.

It’s best to talk to your doctor or nurse as soon as possible to find out about the risk and issues for you – which depend on your cancer type and treatment plan – so you know if you need to make decisions about protecting your fertility.

 

Cancer treatments that can affect fertility

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the most common form of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, while chemo can stop cancer cells growing and multiplying, it can also affect normal, healthy cells in the process. This includes reproductive cells, which means your eggs, and the hormone producing cells around the eggs.

The extent of the damage is determined by a number of different factors:

  • the drug type
  • dosage (amount you have)
  • combination of medications
  • your age.

Because the risk depends on all these different factors, it’s best to talk to your doctor about the potential effect of your treatment on your fertility.

 

Radiation therapy

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays, gamma rays or electrons to kill cancer cells in a specific part of the body. It creates shifts in the body’s cells that destroy the cells’ ability to grow and divide.

Radiotherapy only affects the cells and tissues within a specific area (unlike chemo, which affects the whole body). Normal, healthy cells are also better able to resist the radiation, which is why your body may recover from the effects of radiotherapy faster.

Radiation also kills rapidly dividing cells, such as reproductive cells, but is generally limited to those in a contained area. So it can impact your fertility if you have radiotherapy in that area.

The amount of damage that radiotherapy can do to your reproductive organs depends on:

  • the dosage
  • the number of treatments (called fractions) required
  • the field of radiation (area of body where you have it)
  • your age.

 

Hormone treatment

For some cancers (such as breast cancer) anti-hormone therapy is a treatment. Some of the medications used will cause ovarian suppression (prevent your ovaries producing oestrogen), but this is usually only temporary and fertility will return once you stop taking the medication.

 

Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) and Stem Cell Transplant (SCT)

Having a transplant means that you will be given high dose chemotherapy and/or total body irradiation. That means there is a significantly higher risk of infertility for the reasons explained for those treatments above.

 

Surgery

Having surgery to reproductive organs such as the ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes or cervix, or to the vagina or vulva, may impair your ability to conceive or carry a child.

It is best to talk to your doctor or someone else in your YCS team about what the impact of surgery may be on your reproductive organs.