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Possible Treatment Effects

Possible effects on sperm 

Sperm is made and stored in the testes. Sperm production begins at the onset of puberty and continues throughout the person’s life, although the amount and quality of sperm can naturally decrease with age. Cancer treatment can cause:

  • Lower-than-normal testosterone production
    • Testosterone is required for sperm production and plays a role in sexual functioning and desire.
  • Loss of sperm stem cells that mature into sperm, causing sperm to stop producing.
    • Changes to sperm production can be temporary or permanent.
    • If sperm production recovers, it can take from 1 to 3 years, and sometimes longer.

Analysis of a semen sample can indicate whether you are making sperm. This can be done after treatment is completed. Talk with your doctor about when to be evaluated.

Possible effects on eggs

The ovaries (the organs where eggs are produced) are especially susceptible to damage during cancer treatment because they contain cells that cannot be regenerated after birth. When a person with ovaries is born, nearly one million follicles that contain eggs are present in their ovaries; but they cannot produce new eggs. Therefore, the total effect of cancer treatment on fertility will depend on how many undamaged follicles and/or eggs remain after treatment has ended.

Cancer treatment can also cause:

  • Lower-than-normal estrogen production
    • Estrogen plays a role in ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg), preparing the uterus for pregnancy, sexual functioning and desire.
  • Disruption of the menstrual cycle (periods), which may be temporary or permanent
  • Premature ovarian failure (POF), also called “premature menopause.” This is a loss of ovarian function in a person younger than 40. When POF is caused by cancer treatment, it is unlikely that a person will have subsequent menstrual periods or be able to become pregnant without medical intervention. Generally, POF is managed with hormone (estrogen and progesterone) replacement therapy.
    • People with POF are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly (aerobics and weight training) to decrease the health risks of osteoporosis and heart disease. A doctor may also prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements for bone health.
    • Even though some people may retain a degree of ovarian function after treatment or they may start menstruating again, they may develop POF and have trouble conceiving later in life. 

Possible effects on ability to carry a pregnancy 

Cancer treatment can affect a person’s ability to carry a pregnancy safely.

  • Radiation to the pelvic area can cause damage to the uterus (womb) and increase the risk for infertility, miscarriage or premature birth.
  • Treatment can also cause damage to organs (such as the lungs or heart) that could increase the risk of problems during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Related Links

  • Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free fact sheet, Fertility Facts.