Cancer types and treatments that can affect fertility – for males

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.

There are some cancers that could directly impact upon your fertility, but usually not in a terribly damaging way:

  • Testicular cancer: Having testicular cancer may mean that you have a low sperm count at the time of being diagnosed with cancer.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Because of the way Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops, you could have a low sperm count at the time of being diagnosed.

 

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 sperm.

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

  • the drug type
  • dosage
  • combination of medications.

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 and what action you might take to preserve 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).

 

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.

Therefore there is a significantly higher risk of infertility because of the reasons described for those treatments above.

 

Surgery

Having surgery to the reproductive organs such as the testes, or to the organs in the surrounding areas – like the prostate or bladder – may affect your ability to have 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.

 

How do I know if treatment affected my fertility?

While you are going through treatment it will be difficult to tell what the impact may be on your sperm production. There may be effects on the number of sperm you have, or their ability to swim. These effects may be temporary during treatment, or permanent.

After you have finished treatment you can have your sperm tested to find out what, if any, impact the treatment had.