Sterility

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is sterility?

Sterility is when a woman is unable to get pregnant, or a man is unable to impregnate a woman. Cancer and its treatment can sometimes cause sterility. Sterility can be:

  • A side effect of surgery or radiation therapy involving the reproductive or hormone-producing organs.
  • Caused by chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

Sterility can be temporary or permanent. The risk of sterility depends on many factors, including your age, the medications, doses, and duration of medication therapy, other therapies received (such as radiation), and, for women, your ovarian health before starting treatment.

If you are in your childbearing years or younger, you should receive counseling from a fertility specialist. You and your care team should discuss the available options to preserve your reproductive function before starting treatment. Depending on your gender and the type of cancer you have, fertility preservation may include:

  • Removing and storing the eggs (or embryos) from a woman, or sperm banking for a man.
  • Removing and storing ovarian tissue from a woman, or testicular tissue from a man for future reimplantation in the body after treatment.
  • Moving the ovaries to another location in the abdomen that is outside of radiation treatment fields, or shielding ovaries or testicles from radiation when possible.

How is sterility managed?

Addressing your options before starting treatment offers the best chance of childbearing or fathering a child in the future. After treatment has ended, most oncologists recommend waiting one to two years before becoming pregnant or fathering a child. This time allows your body and eggs or sperm time to recover from the damage caused during treatment. A fertility specialist can help you explore your options prior to treatment or evaluate your fertile health after treatment.

When should I contact my care team?

If you are concerned or have questions about fertility, talk with your care team. Discussing options before starting treatment offers the best chance of maintaining fertility. 

References

American Cancer Society. How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Men. 2017. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/fertility-and-men-with-cancer/how-cancer-treatments-affect-fertility.html

American Cancer Society. How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Women. 2017. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/fertility-and-women-with-cancer/how-cancer-treatments-affect-fertility.html

Abeloff M, Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow, JH, Kastan MB, Tepper, JE. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th edition. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone; 2014.

Fertility Options. Oncofertility Consortium. Found at: http://oncofertility.northwestern.edu/patients/fertility-preservation-options-nu.  

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