Fertility After Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer at any age is a scary thing that leaves you with many questions about your future.  But, being diagnosed with cancer when you are a child or still of child-bearing age may lead you with questions about the future regarding your ability to have a family.  Cancer treatment, in any form, is harsh for the body and can affect every organ and cell in your body which means that fertility may be compromised.  Fertility is at particular risk if chemotherapy is involved or if radiation is targeted near the reproductive organs.  But, all hope to one day conceive a child is not lost.  In fact, as many cancer survivors are finding, it is possible to conceive a child and start a family of your own.

The type of cancer you have, the treatments you choose and your prognosis will all play rolls in how your fertility will be affected during treatment.  After you have been diagnosed and are discussing treatment options with your physician, it is important to discuss how your fertility will be affected during treatment.  If preserving fertility is a priority to you, or if you just want to keep your fertility options as open as possible, your physician may choose to tailor your cancer treatment accordingly.  But, while there are ways to try to preserve fertility, it may not always be an option in the battle against cancer.  Knowing this, and planning your priorities for your health accordingly will help you make your treatment decisions.  The New York Times discusses the struggles of treating cancer in children and young adults and what that can mean in terms of fertility, “For children with cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are a double-edged sword, one that is lifesaving but often toxic to the fast growing cells of the reproductive system.  Many children who live through cancer struggle to conceive once they reach adulthood. Clinical infertility, the failure to conceive after a year of trying, is particularly common among adults who received pelvic radiation and a class of chemotherapy drugs called alkylating agents. In some cases, when stem cell transplants and especially high doses of radiation are used, children may be left completely sterile.”  In terms of fertility after treatment, one thing does seem to be important in particular, age.  When it comes to fertility, time is of the essence.  If fertility is preserved, it still may decline more rapidly than in people than have not undergone cancer treatment.  The sooner you can try, the better and if you have been trying for some time with no success, it is probably a good idea to speak to a physician about other fertility options such as assisted reproductive technologies like IVF.  For fertile women that are newly diagnosed, they may choose to harvest and freeze eggs to be used at a later time.  Embryo cryopreservation is another option in which an egg is fertilized and once a viable embryo is available, it is preserved to be used at a later time.  For men, sperm cryopreservation is available so that, before treatment, sperm can be collected and preserved to be used at a later time.   Determining how to proceed with cancer treatments and fertility preservation will be an important discussion with your physician and one that will be influenced by many factors such as age, type of cancer, stage of cancer and health goals.  The good news is that there are many options for cancer survivors who hope to conceive a child at some point and those options should be discussed with a physician before ever beginning treatment.

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