For many patients with cancer, particularly patients of child-bearing age, treatment may cause side effects in reproductive organs.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor and care team about how cancer and its treatment can impact your ability to have children. You should also discuss how your treatment may affect your sexual activity or your pelvic health.
For women, certain types of treatment can impact your ability to have children and cause fertility problems. Chemotherapy may affect the ovaries causing changes in your menstrual cycle. Your periods may stop for a while (called amenorrhea) or be irregular. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen, pelvis or spine areas may harm nearby reproductive organs. The influence your cancer treatment may have on your fertility depends on many factors including:
- Type and stage of your cancer
- Type and dose of chemotherapy
- Location and dose of your radiotherapy
- Type of surgery
- Your age at the time of treatment
- Your baseline fertility
The best time to preserve your fertility is before cancer treatment starts. Our cancer care team works closely with fertility specialists at the Emory Reproductive Center to support patients when their fertility may be impacted by cancer treatment. To learn about your options, contact the Emory Reproductive Center at (404) 686-8114 and ask to meet with a fertility specialist.
For men, certain types of cancer treatment can affect your hormones and your ability to have children in the future. Chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy directed at the abdomen and pelvis, can temporarily or permanently damage the ability to produce sperm. Future infertility can also result from surgery or radiation to the brain and pituitary gland (a hormone producing gland at the base of the brain). The impact that cancer treatment may have on your hormones and your future fertility depends on many factors:
- Type of cancer
- Type and amount of chemotherapy
- Dose and location of radiation therapy
A blood test and a semen analysis test can help evaluate your fertility following treatment. If your testicles have been affected by chemotherapy or radiation, you may have lower than normal testosterone production. It may be important for you to replace this hormone. Your cancer care team can discuss this with you.
If you are sexually active and now is not a good time to have a child, it is important to use a reliable method of birth control. Even if the sperm has been affected by chemotherapy, it can still be possible to have an unplanned pregnancy. Your doctor can discuss safe and effective methods with you.
At Winship, our researchers are looking at ways to improve patient care and outcomes, while improving support for individuals and couples affected by male factor infertility.
If you would like to obtain a sperm test to determine your fertility or to meet with someone to discuss your options, call (404) 778-3401 and ask to meet with a reproductive health specialist.
Pelvic Health and Sexual Recovery
Both men and women who have been treated for cancer may experience physical and physiological changes in their pelvis. A common side effect of cancer treatment is urinary incontinence related to anatomic changes after surgery or radiation effects. Also, men treated for bladder, colon, prostate, testicular and other types of cancer may experience erectile dysfunction. It’s important to talk to your cancer care team about your treatment and how it may impact sexual function or pelvic health.
Our urology experts can help you find a solution and help you on the path to sexual recovery. Please call (404) 778-4898 and ask to meet with a sexual health specialist.
Winship experts worked with colleagues from other institutions to create an online, tailored interactive program to support men and their partners on their journey toward sexual recovery after prostate cancer treatment. Visit the Movember Foundation's Sexual Recovery Program website to learn more.