Although most people see hair loss when it comes to chemotherapy side effects, infertility is not out of the picture; some chemotherapy treatments may reduce or completely stop the inability to have children in both men and women. Certain chemo agents may stop the ovaries (women) from producing eggs, causing conception impossible; in men, chemotherapy may reduce the production of number of sperm, affecting the sperm’s ability to reach and fertilize a woman’s egg. Therefore, it is important to talk to your health care provider about the risk of infertility before you start treatment if you are planning to have children.
In both women and men, infertility may be temporary or permanent, and will depend on the type of chemotherapy drugs used. Drugs that tend to affect the ability to have children in men and women include:
Fertility in Women
Some chemotherapy drugs may temporarily or permanently damage the ovaries, making them unable to produce eggs. In some women, the menstruation may become irregular or stop. Younger women have higher chance to have their normal periods back, and still be able to have children. This is why some women are no longer able to become pregnant and develop symptoms of menopause: hot flushes, dry skin and vaginal dryness.
What You Can Do?
The good news is that one third of women will regain their fertility once the treatment is over the ovaries start producing eggs again and the menstruation cycles return to normal. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor about your fertility before undergoing chemotherapy if you are planning to have children. Many options can be considered such as storing embryos fertilized eggs.
Fertility in Men
Men also can experience infertility due to chemotherapy treatment. While some chemotherapy drugs do not affect men’s ability to have children, others may stop or reduce sperm production (azoospermia or oligospermia) or affect their ability to fertilize a woman’s egg. This problem can be permanent in some men, preventing them from fathering children. Azoospermia or oligospermia, however, does not prevent men from getting erection.
What You Can Do?
If you are planning to have children after the chemotherapy certain medical decisions can be taken by your doctor. For instance, he may to preserve (or “bank“) some of your sperm for later use, before starting chemotherapy. In this case, several sperm samples will be taken from you over one or two weeks. The samples will then be frozen and stored so that they can be used later to try to fertilize an egg in order to get your partner pregnant.