Effects of Chemotherapy on Fertility in Men and Women


The news of cancer is no less than a shock to anyone who hears it. Understanding its stage and knowing the treatments you would have to undergo is usually accompanied with getting a good idea of what effect is that going to have on your body. This takes even more precedence for people who are on the verge of proceeding ahead with starting their family. For a successful conception to take place, the bodies of the partners need to be at a certain threshold of healthiness and internal bodily functions need to operate at a certain level as well. The entire journey of a sperm reaching an egg and fertilizing it depends on numerous factors and making sure they are in line with each other is essential for a successful and healthy conception.

How Does Chemotherapy Affect Male Fertility?

Chemotherapy and male fertility do have a strong link between them and its effects can be observed no matter what the age of the person might be.

  • The sperm production in a man begins right around the age of 12 or 14 when puberty strikes and it continues unabated. If a child suffers from cancer early in life and is exposed to its treatment, the sperm production ability could take a hit, resulting in his testicles failing to produce sperm at all.
  • This is usually a result of the chemotherapy’s traits and the sperm’s qualities. Since sperm cells divide rapidly within the body, they are quite vulnerable to be targeted by the chemicals and be destroyed.
  • A similar risk is also posed by men who are past the age of 40. Chemotherapy affects the sperm production severely and results in extreme difficulty to recover the previous fertility back again. It can be due to using a specific chemotherapy drug, or even a higher dosage.
  • After the impact on sperm production, the return to fertility can take anywhere from 1 year to 10 years, once chemotherapy has completed. However, the chances of restoration to fertility are quite low if it doesn’t happen after 4 years or so.

What Can Men Do If They Want To Have A Baby After Chemotherapy?

Since chemotherapy affects the sperm production when the treatment begins, it is necessary to safeguard your sperms before proceeding with it. This is where sperm banking comes into play and can help you get your own child.

  • Similar to the concept of sperm donation, sperm banking involves collecting your own sperms and storing them to be used later by you, for conceiving a child through various fertilization techniques.
  • This initially requires conducting certain medical tests to rule out the presence of any diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. Then, numerous sperm samples are procured over the course of a couple of weeks, frozen, and stored safely to be used at a later time.
  • Whenever you decide to have a child, you can get your sperm unfrozen, and use a variety of techniques, right from insemination to IVF to any other method, to fertilize an egg and proceed with the pregnancy.


Sperm banking may not always be a possibility if you already have a low sperm count or need to commence chemotherapy right away, due to the severity of cancer.

How Does Chemotherapy Affect Fertility In Females?

Chemotherapy and fertility in females are quite intricately connected as well. Any kind of external medical treatment has known to affect the various processes and aspects of a woman, which could impact her capability to get pregnant.

  • Even before chemotherapy, if cancer in question has spread to areas of the body that are essential for pregnancy, then chemotherapy could affect these in ways that reduce the possibility to house a child within the body.
  • Chemotherapy does tend to attack the eggs that are produced by the body. As much as this varies from the medication used and the dosage prescribed, this effect is quite evident in women.
  • Younger women have a better chance of restoring their fertility after treatment since their egg production is quite substantial. This starts reducing rapidly as women get older and making it more difficult to get pregnant. At the same time, if pre-pubescent girls or extremely young girls are exposed to chemotherapy, they could have an early menopause, making them infertile altogether.
  • Chemotherapy harming the eggs does reduce fertility but there is a chance of it being restored once chemotherapy stops. However, if the damage is to the reproductive organs themselves, then it could result in the production of improper eggs that fail to fertilize no matter what.

How Can Women Keep Their Fertility?

Maintaining fertility for women is a little complicated as compared to men. There are a few techniques that you can opt for, which have to be executed before beginning with the chemotherapy treatment.

1. Preservation Of Ovarian Tissue

The tissue that is present in the ovaries is susceptible to harm due to chemotherapy. There has been some research conducted in a technique, which can retrieve the ovarian tissue before the treatment begins, and preserve it by means of freezing. At the end of the treatment, the tissue can be replaced back inside the woman and, if it does function just as before, the egg production can resume normally and bring back her fertility.

There are very few places that could offer such a sophisticated option and the cost-effectiveness might be a challenge, too.

2. Preservation Of Eggs

This technique is well-known amongst most women and is usually opted for in various fertility treatment clinics as well. Eggs are the first step required to have a successful conception and it makes sense to store them until needed. With a process similar to that conducted during in-vitro fertilization, certain medicines are given to the woman to accelerate the production of eggs. These are retrieved, frozen, and stored until the time you choose to have a baby.


3. Preservation Of Embryos

This is a step ahead of egg preservation but is more complicated with low chances of success. Such a technique is usually adopted by married couples to have a baby later at the time of choosing.

Instead of storing eggs or sperm separately, eggs are procured from the woman’s body in a similar process as above. These are then exposed to the sperms of your partner, allowing them to get fertilized in a controlled environment. Once embryos are formed with successful fertilization, these are then frozen and stored. When you are ready to have a baby, the embryos are unfrozen, and implanted within the woman’s uterus, initiating her pregnancy.

Chemo Drugs That Have Higher Risks Of Causing Infertility

There are some drugs used in chemotherapy that affect certain bodily process or organs with such severity that they significantly reduce the fertility in a person, as well as decrease the chances of its return.

Drugs That Affect Both Sperm And Egg

Here are a few drugs that affect both men and women equally, causing problems in sperm and egg production.

  • Busulfan
  • Carboplatin
  • Carmustine
  • Chlorambucil
  • Cisplatin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Ifosfamide
  • Lomustine
  • Melphalan
  • Procarbazine

Drugs That Affect Only Sperm

Amongst numerous drugs that are used for therapy, there are a few that specifically affect the sperms within a man, causing infertility to set in.

  • Actinomycin D
  • Cytarabine
  • Nitrogen mustard (mechlorethamine)
  • Procarbazine

Drugs That Affect Only Egg

Women face a higher risk of infertility due to chemotherapy and a bunch of drugs are extremely harmful on those lines.

  • Dacarbazine
  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin®)
  • Mechlorethamine
  • Procarbazine
  • Temozolomide


Chemo Drugs That Have Lower Risks Of Causing Infertility

With chemotherapy and fertility being interdependent so intimately, there do exist a few drugs that are beneficial in treating cancer, as well as tend to offer minimal risks of infertility.

Drugs That Affect Both Sperm And Egg

These drugs are known to pose a low risk of infertility to both men and women while treating their cancer.

  • 5-Fluorouracil
  • Bleomycin
  • Cytarabine
  • Daunorubicin
  • Fludarabine
  • Methotrexate
  • Vinblastine
  • Vincristine

Drugs That Affect Only Sperm

A few more drugs are available for chemotherapy that pose the lowest risk of damage to sperms in men.

  • 6-Mercaptopurine
  • Dacarbazine
  • Doxorubicin
  • Epirubicin
  • Etoposide
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Thioguanine
  • Thiotepa

Drugs That Affect Only Egg

Along with drugs that are beneficial for both genders, a bunch of drugs are especially beneficial for women in this regard.

  • Dactinomycin
  • Gemcitabine
  • Idarubicin

How Long Should Women Wait To Become Pregnant After Chemotherapy?

When thinking about conception after chemotherapy, there is a major consensus amongst doctors that women should ideally wait for a couple of years before attempting to get pregnant. This window period is essential to detect if cancer returns back as a recurrence.


What If A Woman Gets Pregnant While Having Chemotherapy?

Getting pregnant after chemotherapy is one thing. But undergoing chemotherapy while you are pregnant is a completely different ballgame.

Depending on your cancer, you could delay treatment until your baby’s delivery, although most doctors don’t recommend doing so. Breast cancer or other types of cancer can be treated once you have completed the first trimester.

Usually, doctors might recommend terminating the pregnancy if it has just commenced, or undergoing a premature delivery if it is close to completion.

With the question – does chemotherapy affect fertility – answered in numerous ways, it is important to make the right decision regarding your life. Taking pre-emptive steps to safeguard your fertility before commencing treatment can be quite beneficial, and lead you to enjoy the joys of parenting a child, without the worries of treating a severe disease.

Also Read:

Home Remedies to Boost Fertility in Men and Women
Herbs To Increase Fertility
Fertility Supplements Which Help To Conceive

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