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Chemotherapy may not only damage a woman's fertility but that of her children too, research suggests.

It has long been known chemotherapy can wreck patients' ability to have children and women and men are therefore encouraged to freeze eggs or sperm before treatment.

But a study found children born to women who had had chemotherapy had 72 per cent fewer children of their own than those whose mothers had not had the treatment.

Children of men who had had chemo did not seem to be affected, going on to have a similar number of children to those whose fathers had not. While the effect seems dramatic, the researchers, from the University of Utah, urged caution, pointing out it was a small study with a very low number of participants. 

Lead researcher Dr Biren Patel said: ‘There might be an effect but we plan to repeat this study in ten years?...?It is important to not over-call the results yet. More work needs to be done.'

Scientists believe fertility could be damaged between generations due to epigenetics – changes compared to switches that turn on or off certain genes in the DNA passed on to someone's offspring. Smoking has already been shown to cause such changes.

The team, who used data from the Utah Population Database and presented their findings to the ASRM, said further research is needed to look for such genetic changes in children born to chemotherapy patients.