Fertility may be the farthest thing from your mind when you’ve just received a cancer diagnosis, but it’s the right time to think about your future family. Cancer treatments can affect your ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term. Ask your doctor about preserving your fertility before your treatment begins.
Understanding how treatment may affect your fertility is the first step in assessing your options for fertility preservation. Chemotherapy can damage eggs, the sacs holding the eggs and the production of sex hormones. Radiation therapy has similar effects, sometimes causing irregular periods or halting them altogether.
Both treatments can cause infertility immediately or years down the road by inducing early menopause. Premature menopause occurs when a woman’s menstrual cycles end before she turns 40. Surgical treatments removing both ovaries will cause menopause right away. Cancer treatment can also affect a woman’s pregnancy. For example, high-dose radiation to the pelvic area can increase the danger of miscarriages and premature births.
Regardless of the treatment they receive, women diagnosed with cancer have options to protect their fertility. Standard fertility preservation methods include embryo banking, shielding the pelvic region during radiation, and ovarian transposition – when surgeons secure the ovaries in a position away from the radiation field.
The standard treatment for uterine or ovarian cancer is the removal of both ovaries and the uterus, but some women with early-stage cancer that has a low risk of spreading may be able to keep their ovaries. Women with early-stage cervical cancer may choose to have only their cervix removed and keep their uterus and ovaries.
In the future, more options will be available. Researchers are exploring experimental fertility preservation methods such as egg banking and ovarian tissue banking.
Women who undergo cancer treatment can often have a child in the future, but it’s important to know the risks ahead of time. Consult your doctor or oncologist about your chances of success. Or ask your doctor to recommend a reproductive endocrinologist, a fertility specialist. Learn more at savemyfertility.org.