In layman’s terms, chemotherapy means treating various diseases with the help of chemicals. In this technique, cancerous cells or disease-causing microorganisms are killed by using different types of chemicals for different diseases. Though successful to a large extent, this therapy has a number of side effects. Commonly used medication in this technique causes damage to the heart, liver, kidney, brain, ear, etc. It also adversely affects fertility in both men and women. However, chemotherapy can cause varying effects; while in some cases it can lead to short-term infertility. In some other cases, long-term infertility can also be observed.
Chemotherapy and Male Infertility
The type of drugs used during treatment affects the nature of infertility. While some men remain infertile during the course of the treatment and experience normal sperm count and quality after the treatment has finished, others carry this infertility even after completion of the treatment. This is because of the side effects of the drugs used for treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs lessen the ability of the sperms to fertilize an egg, some can affect sperm count and some others affect the quality of sperm. Chemotherapy drugs also cause hindrance in the production or ejaculation of sperms.
Some chemotherapy drugs affect the nerves around the genital area. This leads to problems in having and maintaining a proper erection. However, this problem diminishes a few times after the completion of treatment.
It is advised to use contraception while you have sex during the treatment since getting pregnant during treatment is quite harmful. The drugs used for the treatment are very harmful to the proper development of the fetus.
In some rare cases, it is found that male fertility improves after the completion of the treatment. However, it may take as long as long nine years for this to take place. Generally, a semen analysis is done to test this after the completion of therapy.
Chemotherapy and Female Infertility
Chemotherapy does not always affect female fertility. However, in cases where it does, it mainly affects the ovaries by inhibiting their proper functioning. This effect could last for a short while as well as for a long while. The type of drugs administered during the course of the treatment as well as its amount used for the treatment affects female fertility. Generally higher doses of drugs used for the purpose of treatment badly affect female fertility.
Chemotherapy causing temporary infertility mainly leads to irregular menstrual cycles or lack of it. In such cases, a regular menstrual cycle follows after the treatment ends, generally, it takes a time period of around six to twelve months for the menstrual cycle to be regular. Temporary infertility is found in as many as one-third of women undergoing chemotherapy. Generally, younger females are found to face temporary infertility problems during treatment.
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In some rare cases, menstruation completely ceases during the course of treatment but the ovaries are still found to produce eggs and hence a successful pregnancy may be achieved.
Long-term infertility because of chemotherapy is typically linked with some drugs or higher dosages of those drugs. One such drug that is found to be at higher risk of causing infertility is cyclophosphamide. Apart from this age is another important factor that leads to infertility among women. Generally, women at the age of thirty-five or above who are about to reach the stage of menopause may become a victim of long term infertility during chemotherapy treatment.