Female fertility and cancer treatments
This leaflet provides information about the effects of cancer
treatment on female fertility. It will explain what infertility is
and what options are available to you if your cancer
treatment makes you infertile. Contact telephone numbers
and details of how to obtain further information are provided
at the end of the leaflet.
What is infertility?
Infertility is the inability to become pregnant naturally.
Cancer treatment and fertility
Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy
are the four main treatments for cancer. Each of these
treatments can affect a woman’s fertility.
Some operations will permanently stop you being able to
have a child. For example if you have your womb removed
(hysterectomy); if you have both of your ovaries removed (a
bilateral oophorectomy); and some types of surgery to your
cervix or vagina.
Radiotherapy to your ovaries or pelvis can cause infertility.
This will be permanent. The risk of infertility depends on the
dose of radiotherapy you receive and your age when you
have your treatment.
Women who have total body irradiation (TBI) will normally
be permanently infertile afterwards. Radioactive iodine is
very unlikely to affect fertility.
Chemotherapy can cause infertility. This may be temporary
or permanent. This will depend on:
The chemotherapy drug used – some drugs are more
likely to affect your fertility, and combinations of drugs
are more likely to affect your fertility than single drugs
The dose of the drug used – higher doses are more
likely to affect fertility
Your age – younger women are more likely to retain
Your general health
Some hormonal therapies affect fertility. This is usually
temporary whilst you receive treatment. However, for some
women hormonal therapies cause an early menopause.
This is when your ovaries stop producing eggs, your periods
stop, and hormonal changes can cause hot flushes and
When will my risk of infertility be discussed with me?
Your doctor will discuss your risk of infertility with you before
you start treatment. If you have a partner, they may wish to
join you for this discussion so that you are both aware of all
the facts and can talk about your feelings and options.
Can infertility be prevented?
Research into preserving fertility is being developed. It is
still experimental and many people feel that more research
needs to be carried out to establish their effectiveness.
Your doctor will discuss this further if you would like more
What options are available to me if I may become
If your infertility is likely to be permanent your doctor will
explain what options may be available before you start your
treatment. It is important to realise that any procedures
will delay the start of your treatment. They may also
have a low success rate.
What options may I have after my cancer treatment has
made me infertile?
Your doctor will discuss what options are available to you.
This could include a referral to the Cardiff Assisted
Reproduction Unit (CARU) at the University Hospital of
Wales. A consultation will include discussing what
treatments may be suitable for you. You may need to pay
privately for this as it may not be funded by the NHS.
Should I use contraception during my treatment?
There is sometimes uncertainty about whether infertility will
occur so it is important that you use contraception during
your treatment and for 6-12 months after. This is because
chemotherapy and radiotherapy could damage the unborn
Contact telephone numbers
We understand that the issues raised in this leaflet are
complicated. If you would like to discuss anything further or
would like more information please contact your doctor or
one of the phone numbers below.
029 2061 5888
0808 808 0000
The Daisy Network
Premature menopause support group
0845 122 8616
Cardiff Assisted Reproduction Unit
029 2074 3047
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)
This leaflet was written by health professionals. The
information contained in this leaflet is evidence based. It
has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients. It is
reviewed and updated annually.
Reviewed June 2010