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Fertility for Cancer Survivors

Topics: Cancer Treatment Side Effects

October 30, 2019

Fertility for Cancer Survivors

For a man or woman in their childbearing years, a cancer diagnosis can come with a scary thought: will having children be possible? Fortunately, with improvements in treatment and fertility preservation options, having a baby after remission can become a reality for many cancer survivors. 

The Risks of Infertility After Cancer

When it comes to whether or not you’re at risk for infertility after cancer, there really is no one-size-fits-all answer. Overall, the chances of remaining fertile depend on a variety of factors including the cancer type, the treatments you received, how your body responded, as well as the original fertility potential. 

For both women and men, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can have a negative effect on fertility. In women, cancer treatment can cause ovarian damage or failure, early menopause, and other reproductive problems that can make it difficult to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. In men, the results of treatment can cause damage to the testes as well as interfere with or destroy sperm production. 

The American Cancer Society website has detailed lists of how cancer treatments affect both women and men

Preserving Fertility Before Treatment

If expanding your family in the future is important to you, speak with your oncologist about how you can preserve your fertility. Prior to beginning cancer treatment, you might want to consider the following options: 

  • Collecting and freezing sperm, eggs, embryos, or ovarian tissue
  • Gonadal shielding, where unaffected reproductive organs are protected from radiation exposure 
  • Ovarian suppression, which can protect eggs during treatment  

Fertility can be damaged by a single cancer therapy session. Additionally, for women, certain methods of fertility preservation are done during certain phases of the menstrual cycle. Because of this, it is important that you talk to your oncologist or a reproductive specialist as soon as possible if you want to preserve your fertility. 

Regardless of Your Post-Cancer Fertility, You Can Still Become a Parent

Even if your cancer treatment has caused you to become infertile and you did not take steps or know you could take steps to preserve your fertility before treatment (such as freezing your eggs or sperm) that doesn’t mean you can’t become a parent. Thanks to donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogates who will carry your fertilized embryo to term, adoption, etc. you can still have the family you’ve dreamed of, even if your journey to parenthood is different than you had imagined.

Remember, your cancer care team is your best resource. They can provide you with the most accurate answers to any questions you have regarding the effects of cancer on your fertility, including how long after treatment you should wait before trying to conceive and whether your cancer will be passed onto your child. With support from your cancer care team, friends, and family, you can move forward with hope of becoming a parent.  

Arizona Oncology - The US Oncology Network