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The term “fertility” is used to describe the ability to conceive a child naturally. Some cancer treatments affect fertility in males and females. The risk of infertility from cancer treatment is based on several factors, including the patient’s age and the type and dosage of treatment received. It is important to talk with members of your oncology team before treatment begins about the effects of your treatment. 

Chemotherapy and radiation can cause side effects as well as long-term and late effects, which can appear months or years after treatment. One possible late effect is infertility, the inability to conceive a child naturally. When first diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma, your primary concern will be your upcoming treatment and long-term survival. You may not be thinking about whether you can one day become a parent. However, information about the potential effects of your treatment can help you take steps to maximize your ability to have a child in the future.

Not all cancer treatments affect fertility. Your risk depends on several factors, including

  • Your age at the time of diagnosis
  • The type and dosage of chemotherapy drug(s) you receive
    • Alkylating agents, for example cyclophosphamide or procarbazine, have the most significant effect on fertility. Other drugs are generally less toxic to sperm-forming cells and eggs, but can also cause infertility, especially when used as part of a combination of therapies.
  • The location and dosage of radiation
    • Exposure to the testes may destroy cells that form sperm.
    • Exposure to the ovaries may destroy eggs.
    • Exposure to the pituitary gland in the brain may cause changes in secretion of hormones that regulate puberty and fertility.
  • Whether you received a blood or marrow stem cell transplantation, which is associated with a high risk of infertility.

Related Links

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