What is fertility?
Fertility is the ability to father a child; many factors can impact on your ability to father a child.
How can radiotherapy affect fertility?
Not all radiotherapy treatments will affect your fertility. However some radiotherapy treatments affect your fertility more than others and include treatments for:
- pelvic cancers (e.g. bladder, prostate, rectal or testicular) and pituitary/hypothalamus gland
- preparation for a bone marrow transplant when total body irradiation (TBI) is given.
Radiotherapy treatment can stop the production of sperm (temporarily or permanently); and affect the production of the hormone testosterone, which can influence your sex drive and your ability to get an erection.
Is infertility temporary or permanent?
The effect of radiotherapy on fertility may be temporary or permanent depending on the area of your body being treated, the total dose delivered, whether chemotherapy is also given as well and your age and general health. Radiotherapy given directly to the testicles will cause permanent infertility (by stopping sperm production). If it is given to the pelvic area it may lead to reduced sperm production (which may take up to five years to return to normal following completion of treatment).
Each person’s situation is different and it is not always possible to preserve everyone’s fertility.
Radiotherapy given with some types of hormonal therapy (such as androgen deprivation therapy) may affect fertility. This effect is usually temporary, although it may take several years to recover after completing hormone therapy.
Do I need to use contraception?
You are advised to avoid getting your partner pregnant during and after radiotherapy treatment. You should continue to use a reliable method of contraception for a defined period of time after your treatment has finished. Discuss this with your doctor or a member of your treatment team.
tell your doctor as soon as possible, as there may be a risk to the health of a child conceived during or after treatment.
If you father a child during this period, you should
Is it still possible to father a child after radiotherapy?
It can be difficult to predict whether your fertility will be affected by radiotherapy or if it will return to normal once treatment has ended. With some diseases such as testicular cancer, fertility may already be affected prior to having any treatment.
It may be possible to have some of your sperm collected for future use, this needs to be done before you start your treatment, discuss this with your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a fertility clinic; if you are referred to a fertility clinic it is important that the clinic knows that you are about to commence radiotherapy treatment for cancer. For some patients sperm collection and banking may not be possible and there are no guarantees that stored sperm will be able to fertilise an egg and achieve a pregnancy.
Where can I get further information and support?
It is important to seek further information from your doctor or nurse before starting your treatment. When considering infertility treatment options, it may be helpful to talk to an infertility counsellor.