What is sterility?
Sterility is when a woman is unable to get pregnant, or a man is unable to impregnate a woman. Cancer and cancer treatment can sometimes cause sterility. Sterility can be:
- A side effect of surgery or radiation therapy that affects reproductive or organs that make hormones.
- Caused by chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.
Sterility can be temporary (lasts a short period of time) or permanent (does not go away). The risk of sterility depends on factors like your age, the medications you take (dose and how long), if you’ve had radiation or surgery, and, for women, your ovarian health before starting treatment.
If you are in your childbearing years or younger, you should speak with a fertility specialist to learn how to manage reproductive issues before starting treatment. Your plan may include:
- For women: Removing and storing eggs (or embryos), removing and storing ovarian tissue that can be put back into the body after treatment, and moving the ovaries to another part of the belly or shielding them from a radiation treatment field.
- For men: Sperm banking, removing testicular tissue to be put back into the body after treatment is done, or shielding the testicles from radiation.
How is sterility managed?
Talk to your providers before starting treatment. Most oncologists suggest you wait for one to two years after treatment has ended 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 teach you about your options before treatment starts or evaluate your fertility health after treatment.
When should I contact my care team?
Talk with your care team about your concerns and desire to have children. Talking about options before starting treatment offers the best chance of maintaining fertility.
American Cancer Society. How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Men. 2020. 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. 2020. 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.