Fertility and cancer
Some cancer treatments can affect your fertility. Whether you are starting cancer treatment or finished some time ago, find out more.
Fertility means being able to get pregnant or make someone pregnant. Some cancer treatments are unlikely to affect fertility. But some do cause fertility problems during or after treatment.
If you are worried or have questions about fertility, make sure you get the information you need about your situation. You can talk to your cancer doctor, GP or specialist nurse at any stage before, during or after cancer treatment.
We have information about different types of cancer treatment and how they might affect fertility.
The parts of the body involved in starting a pregnancy are called the reproductive system.
Booklets and resources
It can be hard to think about fertility and the future when you are coping with cancer. Having children might be something you have never thought about.
But some decisions about fertility have to be made before cancer treatment starts. If being able to start a pregnancy is important to you or might be in the future, talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse early on.
You do not need to be in a relationship, or a certain age, gender or sexual orientation. If your doctor or nurse has not talked to you about fertility and you want information, it is important to ask them.
How will cancer treatment affect my fertility?
Your doctor or nurse can explain any risks to your fertility. Some cancer treatments are unlikely to cause fertility problems. Others might cause fertility problems during treatment or for a short time after. Some treatments cause long-term or permanent damage to fertility.
We have more information about cancer treatments and fertility.
Are there ways to protect my fertility during cancer treatment?
Your doctor or nurse can explain if there are ways you might be able to protect your fertility during cancer treatment. For example, taking certain drugs during chemotherapy may help protect the ovaries from some damage.
We have more information about cancer treatments and fertility.
Can I store sperm, eggs or embryos? Or can I store testicular or ovarian tissue?
Some types of cancer treatment might make you infertile (unable to start a pregnancy). Your doctor or nurse should talk to you about fertility preservation. This means storing your:
- embryos (eggs fertilised with sperm)
- ovarian tissue
- testicular tissue.
If you are thinking about fertility preservation, your cancer doctor can refer you to a fertility clinic straight away.
What type of contraception should I use during and after cancer treatment?
Even if your cancer treatment could damage fertility, your cancer doctor may talk to you about contraception to prevent a pregnancy. This is because some treatments:
- can damage sperm or eggs – this may affect a baby and cause abnormalities if a pregnancy starts during treatment
- are harmful to a baby developing in the womb.
It can take time to move forward with life after cancer treatment. The decision to try to have a baby is a big one for anyone to make. You may have worries and questions about fertility that did not seem important before cancer treatment. When you are ready, you can talk to your cancer doctor again for more advice.
If you were told your fertility might recover after cancer treatment, your cancer doctor can give you more information about this. They can explain when your fertility might come back and what to expect. They can help you think about when might be best for you to try to start a pregnancy.
Often it is hard to know exactly how or when your fertility will recover. You may decide to have fertility tests to get more information. Your cancer doctor can refer you to the fertility specialist for further discussions.
Some people will need fertility treatment to be able to start a pregnancy. This may not be a straightforward decision for everyone. Sometimes moral, cultural or religious views about fertility treatment can make the decision complicated.
Some people cannot have fertility treatment. And some decide they do not want treatment or prefer to become a parent another way.
Adoption and fostering
Adoption means becoming the legal parent of a child. Fostering means looking after a child who cannot stay with their own family. Fostering can be short or long term.
People from all backgrounds can apply to adopt or foster a child. Sexual orientation, gender or disability should not matter. You do not have to be in a relationship or married to apply.
Adoption and fostering can be rewarding. They are usually arranged through an organisation or local authority. If you want to find out more, ask:
Co-parenting is an agreement to raise a child with someone who is not your partner. It is often used to describe couples who share parenting after splitting up. But it can also describe an agreement to conceive and raise a child with someone who is not your partner.
The laws about who has parental responsibility and rights in this situation can be complicated. You should get legal advice if you are thinking about co-parenting.
Not having children
Some people decide not to have children. This may be a clear choice they are happy with. Sometimes it is more complicated. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone is different.
If you want to talk to someone or are trying to cope with difficult feelings, we have more information about getting support below. Your GP may also be able to help. Or they may arrange a counsellor for you to talk to. You can also call us for free on 0800 808 0000.
These are some of the questions people ask about fertility after cancer treatment. But if there is something else you want to ask, we are here to help. You can:
Can cancer be passed to children?
Cancer cannot be passed from parent to child.
A small number of people carry an inherited gene change that increases their risk of getting cancer. An inherited gene change can be passed from parent to child. It is sometimes the reason for a pattern of certain types of cancer in a family.
This is rare. Most cancers are not caused by gene changes that run in a family. We have more information about cancer and genetics. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about the risk of cancer in your family.
How soon can I try to start a pregnancy after cancer treatment?
If you are planning a pregnancy after cancer treatment, there are several things to think about. Your cancer doctor can talk to you about this and give you detailed information. They can give you advice about when it is safest to start trying. They can explain any other things you may need to think about.
Radiotherapy and some cancer drug treatments can affect sperm and eggs for a time after treatment has finished. Your cancer doctor may advise you to wait for a time. This is to make sure you are producing healthy sperm or eggs.
You may also want information about the risk of cancer coming back. Nobody can tell you exactly what will happen in the future. But your cancer doctor may be able to give you information about your level of risk over time.
For example, the risk of cancer coming back usually gets less with time. Some people decide to wait until their risk is likely to be lower before trying to start a pregnancy.
Ovarian reserve and timing a pregnancy
Some cancer treatments affect the number of eggs in the ovaries. This is called your ovarian reserve. A low ovarian reserve may mean there is less time to start a pregnancy. The menopause may start earlier because of the treatment you had.
Fertility tests can help estimate your ovarian reserve. Your cancer doctor or GP can refer you to a fertility specialist for advice about your fertility treatment options.
Find out more about the reproductive system and menopause.
Being pregnant after cancer treatment
Some cancer treatment can increase the risk of problems during pregnancy or when giving birth. Your cancer doctor can give you advice about this based on your age and the type of cancer and cancer treatment you have had. They can talk to you about:
- how long you may need to recover and be physically fit for pregnancy
- any health checks you may need before you try to get pregnant
- any additional risks you may have during pregnancy and ways to manage these risks.
Can being pregnant make cancer come back?
Research suggests that for almost all types of cancer, pregnancy does not make cancer more likely to come back. If you have one of a rare group of tumours called gestational trophoblastic disease, you may have a slightly higher risk that the tumour may come back in pregnancy. Your cancer doctor can give you more information.
Fertility after cancer treatment can be complicated and difficult to think about. You may:
- have questions or want more information
- need support with difficult feelings
- want to talk through the decisions you are making.
There is often support that can help.
Talking to other people can be helpful while you are thinking about your options. You may want to talk to someone close to you or from your community.
You may want to talk to other people in a similar situation. Some organisations can provide this, as well as specialist advice and counselling. You can also talk to people online. Our Online Community is a good place to start.
If you prefer to talk to a counsellor, your GP or cancer doctor can arrange this. Many hospitals also have specialist nurses who can offer support. Fertility clinics have a counsellor you can talk to.
You can also talk to our cancer support specialists free on 0800 808 0000, 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm.
The following organisations offer information and support about a range of fertility and parenting issues:
Action for Children
British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA)
Cancer, Fertility and Me
Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS)
Donor Conception NetworkK
Fertility Network UK
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA)
New Family Social
Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer
Below is a sample of the sources used in our fertility and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
Lambertini M, Peccatori FA, Demeestere I, et al. Fertility preservation and post-treatment pregnancies in post-pubertal cancer patients: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines. Annals of Oncology, 2020; 31, 12, 1664-1678.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Fertility problems: assessment and treatment. [Internet]. 2017, Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG156 [accessed November 2022].
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
The language we use
We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.
We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:
- use plain English
- explain medical words
- use short sentences
- use illustrations to explain text
- structure the information clearly
- make sure important points are clear.
We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.
You can read more about how we produce our information here.
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