The sexual or reproductive organs (also called gonadsgonadsThe organ that produces germ cells.) include the ovaries in women and the testicles in men. Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the reproductive organs, which can lead to infertility (the inability to conceive or produce children). Damage to the reproductive organs is also called gonadal toxicity or gonadal dysfunction.
Damage to the reproductive organs is often related to the type and dose of chemotherapy drugs given and the length of treatment. Drugs that seem to produce the most severe side effects include:
Factors that put a person at risk for developing reproductive organ damage include:
Changes to the reproductive organs can lead to:
Damage to the reproductive organs may not show up until after chemotherapy is finished.
A detailed interview can help identify a problem with sexual function. People with cancer may be interviewed alone or with their partners. The doctor may do a physical examination to check the genitals. Sometimes tests are done to find out the cause of sexual problems or to check sexual function.
Infertility is sometimes permanent. People concerned about having children in the future should discuss how chemotherapy treatment may affect their fertility with their doctor. They should also discuss fertility options before treatment starts.
Many chemotherapy drugs are passed from the body within 72 hours. People receiving chemotherapy should talk to their doctor or healthcare team about any precautions they need to take while having sex (including oral sex), when to avoid having sex and when it is safe to start having sex again.
People receiving chemotherapy need to use birth control measures. This is because chemotherapy drugs can be mutagenic (causing genetic mutations) or teratogenic (causing defects to a developing fetus). A woman may still be fertile while she is receiving chemotherapy, even if her menstrual cycles become irregular or stop.
Men should use a condom during sexual intercourse for the first few days after treatment because some of the drugs may end up in the sperm.
Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the ovaries so they stop producing eggs or do not produce the normal amount of hormones.
Talk to your doctor if you and your partner are considering pregnancy after chemotherapy treatments are over.
It is recommended that a person wait at least 6 months or more after cancer treatment before trying to conceive or have a child. Some doctors may suggest delaying pregnancy for about 2 years after treatment. How long someone has to wait depends on many factors, including the:
The healthcare team considers all these factors when advising people about the best time to conceive after cancer treatment.
A delay is also recommended to allow the ovaries or sperm to recover after cancer therapy.
There has not been any conclusive evidence that shows children born to parents who have received chemotherapy drugs have an increased potential for birth defects or other diseases.
For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.