Effects of radiotherapy on fertility
Your cancer support specialist should discuss any potential effects on fertility with you before you begin your treatment. You might find it helpful to read our information about the possible side effects of pelvic radiotherapy in men and women.
Most radiotherapy treatment has no effect on your ability to have children unless the ovaries are included in the treatment area.
Many healthy babies have been born to women who have had radiotherapy. The risk of having a baby with health problems is not increased if you have had treatment in the past. Cancer specialists often recommend that women wait for about two years after having radiotherapy before trying to get pregnant. This is to give the body a chance to get over the effects of the cancer and its treatment.
If radiotherapy treatment is given for cancer of the cervix, womb, ovary, bladder, rectum or anus and the treatment area includes the ovaries, temporary or permanent infertility is likely. This can be very difficult to come to terms with.
In men, sperm production can be reduced if the testicles are in the area being treated, and this can lead to temporary or permanent infertility. Fortunately, it’s usually possible to avoid giving radiotherapy to the testicles when treating cancers that are common in younger men.
Radiotherapy for prostate, bladder, rectal or anal cancer is likely to cause permanently low sperm counts, which can reduce your fertility.
Information about fertility
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Before you consent to have radiotherapy, your clinical oncologist should discuss the risk of infertility with you. Understandably, this can be a difficult time, particularly if you were planning to have children and have been told the treatment may make you infertile. If you have a partner, they will be encouraged to join this meeting, giving both of you a chance to discuss any concerns you have.
Sperm banking and egg storage
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Sometimes it may be possible for men to store sperm before they have radiotherapy. The sperm are frozen and can be stored for several years until you and your partner are ready to have children. This is called sperm banking.
Before treatment starts, women may be able to store fertilised eggs (embryos) using sperm from a partner. It can take 4–6 weeks to collect the eggs so this won’t be possible if treatment needs to start straight away.
It’s now sometimes possible to store a woman’s unfertilised eggs. This is still experimental but techniques are improving. This service is available privately and on the NHS in some fertility units.
Feelings about sexuality and infertility
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It’s not easy to come to terms with the prospect of infertility, or with the other side effects of treatment. It will take a while for you to come to terms with your feelings and be able to talk about them. When you’re ready, it may help to talk openly to your partner, a relative or friend. This will make it easier for them to help and support you.
Some people prefer to talk to someone they don’t know. Support groups offer you the chance to talk to other people who have been through a similar experience. Our cancer support specialists can tell you about groups in your area.
Another possibility is to talk things over with a counsellor. Your hospital may offer a counselling service or our cancer support specialists can tell you how to contact a counsellor.