Cancer treatment and fertility in women

How treatment can affect fertility

Your cancer doctor or nurse will talk to you about your treatment options and possible side effects before you start any cancer treatment.

The main treatments are:

  • drugs (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy)
  • radiotherapy
  • surgery
  • stem cell transplants.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, it can feel like everything happens very quickly. You may need some time to adjust to what is happening. It can help to talk to family and friends or someone else you trust.

Each treatment can affect fertility in different ways. It is always best to ask your healthcare team for more information. As well as the information here, we have more detailed information about different cancer treatments and fertility for women.

You may feel less interested in sex during cancer treatment. Some treatments can cause side effects that make having sex difficult. This can also affect your chances of getting pregnant naturally. You can find out more about coping with sexual problems.

Cancer treatment and fertility in women

For women, cancer treatment may:

  • stop your ovaries releasing healthy eggs – this could be for a short time or permanently
  • cause changes that can make pregnancy more complicated in the future.

Changes to ovaries

If your ovaries stop releasing eggs, you won’t be able to get pregnant. Your periods may stop and you might have some symptoms of the menopause such as:

  • hot flushes and sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • mood changes
  • poor concentration
  • less interest in sex.

If your ovaries start working again after cancer treatment, these symptoms will get better. Your periods may start again, but you may have fewer or less healthy eggs than before. If this happens, you might be less likely to get pregnant naturally. You may also have less time to get pregnant because treatment has brought you closer to an early menopause.

Early menopause

Sometimes cancer treatment stops the ovaries working permanently. This means your periods won’t come back after treatment and you won’t be able to get pregnant. This is called an early menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI).

It can be hard coping with an early menopause when you are already coping with cancer. If you find any of the symptoms difficult or upsetting, talk to your healthcare team for advice about treatments that can help. They can also arrange for you to talk to a specialist and get extra support.

As well as symptoms of the menopause, you may be dealing with some difficult feelings about losing your fertility. If you want to talk, call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00. There are also some organisations that support women who have an early menopause. You can find details of these in our booklet Fertility – support for young people affected by cancer.

Being pregnant and giving birth

Being pregnant and giving birth is hard work for your body. This might be a problem if cancer treatment has affected how well your heart or kidneys work.

If you are thinking about having a baby after cancer treatment, ask your doctor for advice. They may arrange for you to see a specialist. You may also have extra tests to check the health of your heart and kidneys.

Some cancer treatments can make it harder for your womb to carry a pregnancy for nine months. This may mean there is more risk of losing a baby (miscarriage) or of giving birth early. If you have a higher risk of these problems, you will have extra check-ups and specialist care during your pregnancy.

Sadly, some cancer treatments make it impossible for your body to carry a pregnancy or give birth. There may be other ways to start a family such as surrogacy or adoption.