Starting cancer treatment

Talking to your healthcare team

Your cancer doctor or nurse should talk to you about fertility before you start cancer treatment. If there is a risk that your fertility may be affected, they will talk to you about fertility preservation.

For men, fertility preservation usually means collecting and freezing sperm. For women, it can mean collecting and freezing eggs or pieces of ovary. If you have a male partner, sometimes, collected eggs can be fertilised with their sperm. If suitable embryos develop, these may be frozen.

This means that if your fertility is affected, you may still be able to have a baby in the future. You don’t have to be in a relationship or know if you want to be a parent to have fertility preservation.

Your doctor or nurse will explain if fertility preservation is not possible. For some people, cancer treatment needs to start straight away and there is not enough time.

Making decisions about your treatment

Talking about sex and fertility can be difficult. It is personal, and some people feel embarrassed. But your healthcare team are used to having these conversations and they will try to answer your questions. It is important that you get all the information and support you need. This will help you make decisions about your treatment.

If someone uses words you don’t understand, ask them to explain. If you need time to go away and think, let them know. There may be questions you don’t want to ask in front of your family, partner or other people. Tell your doctor or nurse that you want to talk about something privately. They will arrange a time and place to do this.

Contraception

Preventing pregnancy

It may be confusing if your doctor tells you to use contraception when they have also told you that you may be infertile. Your fertility might be affected by the treatment, but it is not always possible to know when this will happen. You may still be able to get pregnant or get someone pregnant.

Some cancer treatments can be harmful to an unborn baby. Whatever your gender, you should use contraception to prevent a pregnancy during your treatment and for a time after.

There are many different types of contraception. The best ones to use during cancer treatment are a condom or cap (diaphragm). Some hormonal contraceptives (such as the pill, patch, injection or implants) may be less effective during cancer treatment because of:

  • the drugs you are taking
  • side effects you may have, such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you have any questions about contraception.

Safe sex during cancer treatment

If you have sex during cancer treatment, it is also important to protect yourself and your partner.

Small amounts of chemotherapy, or other drugs, can get into your body fluids. That includes fluid made in the vagina and the fluid that contains sperm. To protect your partner, your cancer doctor may advise that for a few days after treatment you:

  • use a condom (or a latex barrier such as a dental dam) for oral sex
  • use a condom for vaginal or anal sex.

Using condoms and dental dams also helps protect you from sexually transmitted infections. This is important even if you are not having cancer treatment. But it is even more important if your cancer treatment affects how your body fights infections.

We have more information about safe sex during treatment.