Radiotherapy works by using high-energy rays (typically x-rays or similar) to kill or damage cancer cells in the area that is being treated. It can be given externally, through a machine directing invisible rays toward the body, or internally, through tiny radioactive implants in the body (brachytherapy). Whether or not radiotherapy affects fertility depends on its location (proximity to the ovaries, womb or brain) and dose.
- High doses of radiotherapy to the ovaries may destroy the remaining eggs inside and result in premature ovarian failure or early menopause.
- Treatment affecting the womb can cause future miscarriages, premature births and low-birth-weight infants.
- If radiotherapy is given to the brain, it may affect the pituitary gland. This could interfere with the hormone signals to use the eggs that remain in the ovary.
Women who get pregnant after treatment that exposed their womb to radiotherapy are much more likely to have miscarriages or premature births compared to those women who have not had radiotherapy to their womb.
Cancer treatments can affect fertility by:
- Damaging or lowering the number of eggs stored in the ovaries.
- Damaging a part of the body that controls the fertility hormones.
- Removing or damaging a part of the female reproductive system.
The ways in which cancer treatments affect fertility depends upon the type of cancer and the treatment you may have.
Not all women that have cancer treatment will have a fertility problem in the future.