Causes of Infertility: Cancer and its Treatment

One of the causes of infertility for both men and women is cancer and its accompanying treatments. Whether located in the reproductive organs or elsewhere in the body, cancer can affect or eliminate a woman's ability to become pregnant or a man's ability to cause a pregnancy. Here is how cancer and its treatments can cause infertility.

Ovarian or Uterine Cancer

Ovarian or uterine cancers can cause a woman to not produce eggs, destroy previously created eggs or make implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall impossible. Since these functions are essential to a woman becoming pregnant, these cancers may make a woman infertile. It is possible, furthermore, for a woman's eggs not to be completely destroyed but of poorer quality, making fertilization impossible. Solutions to these problems include egg donation, surrogacy or adoption. 

Testicular or Penile Cancer

Because of its location, testicular or penile cancer can reduce a man's sperm count, make his sperm unviable or destroy his ability to create sperm. These types of cancers affect a man's testicles and penis, and can possibly make him infertile or cause erectile dysfunction. Low sperm motility, quality or not producing sperm make it impossible for a man to cause a pregnancy. Solutions to these problems include using donated sperm to fertilize his partner's egg.

Other Types of Cancers

There are several other types of cancers, each of which could possibly cause infertility. Breast, lung, kidney, blood or bone cancers put a body through an unusually high amount of stress. To combat the abnormal cell growth that cancer causes, a body will divert and change how it expends its energy. This means that, possibly, the body will cease creating sperm or eggs or not send the nutrients it normally does to the individual's reproductive organs.

The Effect of Radiation on Fertility

Radiation is one of the most commonly used treatments for cancer. Radiation is a local treatment that only affects the area where it is directed. However, injected radiation or ingested radiation medications will affect the entire body. Radiation kills all cells that are currently dividing, regardless of whether they're cancerous or not. Therefore, radiation near sexual organs can kill healthy cells, resulting in infertility.

The Effect of Chemotherapy on Fertility

Chemotherapy treatments are not localized treatments like radiation. Chemotherapy drugs affect the entire body and kill all cells that are currently dividing. Therefore, even if the patient does not have cancer in his or her reproductive organs, those organs will still be affected and possibly become infertile as a result.

Surgical Cancer Treatments and Infertility

Sometimes to treat cancer physicians use surgery in combination with other treatments. More severe surgical procedures include a complete hysterectomy or mastectomy or removal of testicles or prostate. Removal of any of these organs will make the patient infertile. However, many times prior to undergoing surgery and beginning treatment, patients will be able to extract their eggs or sperm for later, personal use. In this instance, despite being infertile, the patient would still be able to have a genetically-related child.