Fertility Risks

We know that when patients are about to start a chemotherapy or radiation regimen, survival is the most important consideration.  However, UNC's Fertility Preservation Program is designed to provide information tailored to each individual patient regarding his or her risks of decreased fertility potential after cancer treatment.   Chemotherapy or radiation can damage sperm and eggs, but the degree of damage can be hard to predict.

For women, one marker of decreased fertility potential after cancer treatment is the loss of menstrual cycles, or premature menopause.  However, some women who still have menstrual cycles after their cancer treatments may have "diminished ovarian reserve", which means that the ovaries were damaged by treatment, but there is some ovarian function remaining.  However, patients with "diminished ovarian reserve" may have difficulty conceiving, either on their own, or with Assisted Reproductive Therapies (ART).

For men, either the cancer itself or the cancer treatments can cause infertility.  Specific cancers that can damage the testis include testicular cancer and Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  Post-treatment sperm counts can be considered either normal, low, or completely absent. 

Risk Factors

Factors that may play a role in future infertility include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Chemotherapy medications, dose, and number of cycles
  • Radiation dose and location
  • Prior difficulty conceiving
  • Prior surgeries