Thinking about becoming a parent

Becoming a parent is a big decision for anyone. If you are thinking about it, here are some things to consider.

You shouldn’t start a pregnancy while you are having cancer treatment. After treatment, ask your doctor for advice before you start trying. They will explain the best time for you to start, depending on your age and the type of cancer and treatment you had.

Some people decide not to have children. Others may not be able to have children naturally because of the cancer or cancer treatments. If you feel distressed about not being able to have your own children, talk to someone about it. You can call us on 0808 808 00 00.

If you are single or in a same-sex relationship, you could think about becoming a parent through fertility treatments, adoption, fostering, or surrogacy.

It’s also important to know that:

  • cancer can’t be passed on to your children
  • if you have disabilities because of cancer or treatment, you may be able to get extra benefits and financial help as parent
  • many women can breastfeed after cancer treatment – ask your healthcare team for advice.

Deciding whether to become a parent

Becoming a parent is a big decision for anyone to make. It might not be something you are ready to think about yet. But if you do start thinking about it, here are some things to consider.


When is it okay to try to get pregnant?

Both men and women should avoid starting a pregnancy if they are having cancer treatment. Cancer treatment can harm the baby as it grows in the womb. It may cause problems during the pregnancy, or long-term problems for the child later in life.

When you have finished cancer treatment, your body may still need time to recover. Doctors usually advise waiting at least a year before trying for a baby. But it can depend on your age, and the type of cancer and treatment you had. If you are thinking about having a baby, talk to your GP or cancer doctor first. Even if you finished treatment some time ago, get their advice about the best time to try. They can also give you information about any extra health checks you need.

For some women, cancer treatment may cause an early menopause. This may mean you have less time to get pregnant. If you want to try for a baby, your doctor may advise you to start before your mid-30s.


Not having children

Some people choose not to have children. This may be a clear decision that they are happy with.

Sometimes this is more complicated. You may feel that the choice has been taken away from you because of cancer or other medical reasons. If you feel distressed about not being able to have your own children, talk to someone about it. You can call us on 0808 808 00 00. There are also some other organisations that provide emotional support.


If you are single or in a same-sex relationship

People who are single or in a same-sex relationship when they decide they want a baby can become parents using:

For women

If you are a single woman or in a same-sex relationship, you may be able to have NHS fertility treatment using donor sperm. NHS funding rules still apply and may be different in different areas. It is always best to talk to your GP for more information. We have more information about paying for fertility treatment.

If you are in a same-sex relationship, there are laws about who the legal parents are when a child is born using donor sperm. Let your fertility clinic know so they can explain the laws to you. Some organisations, such as Stonewall and Pink Parents, also provide information and support about this.

For men

If you are a single man or in a same-sex relationship, you may be able to become a parent by:

  • adopting or fostering a child
  • co-parenting (an agreement to conceive and raise a child with a woman who is not your partner)
  • using a surrogate.

There are laws about becoming a legal parent in all these situations. Some organisations, such as Stonewall and Pink Parents, provide information and support about this.


Worrying about cancer coming back

It is natural to worry about the cancer coming back. No one can tell you exactly what’s going to happen in the future. But your cancer doctor may be able to give you information about what is likely to happen. For some people, the risk that cancer will come back gets less as time goes on. They may decide to wait for a few years before trying to start a family.

Can being pregnant make cancer come back?

Research suggests that pregnancy does not make childhood or teenage cancers more likely to come back.


Can cancer be passed on to children?

No. Cancer cannot be passed from a parent to child. A small number of people have an inherited cancer gene that increases their risk of getting cancer. But this is rare and most cancers are not caused by inherited cancer genes. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about the risk of cancer running in your family. They can arrange for you to see a specialist if needed.

We have more information about cancer genes and planning a family.


Getting help as a disabled parent

If you have disabilities because of cancer or cancer treatment, you may be able to get extra help as a parent. Social services departments can often provide support and equipment. You may be able to claim extra benefits and financial help. To find out more:

  • talk to a social worker (ask your cancer doctor, nurse or GP for information)
  • contact your local social services department
  • call us on 0808 808 00 00 and talk to a welfare rights adviser.


Breastfeeding after cancer treatment

After cancer treatment, many women can breastfeed if they want to. Breastfeeding does not make the cancer more likely to come back.

Some types of cancer treatment may stop your body producing enough milk. This includes radiotherapy to the chest area. Treatment for some types of brain tumours can affect a hormone produced in the brain which controls milk production. This may mean you can’t produce enough milk to breastfeed.

Some drugs can be passed on to your baby through your breastmilk. Always check that a drug is safe to take while breastfeeding. Ask your doctor, nurse or midwife for more information.