Cancer treatment can affect one’s fertility in more ways than one, especially for women. Typically, it is not one of the most discussed topics when it comes to cancer and cancer treatments but it is something to consider. If you are undergoing cancer treatment and wish to get pregnant at some point in the future, you should discuss this with your cancer care team. This is because cancer treatments may harm the reproductive organs as they seek to destroy cancer cells. This affects fertility temporarily or permanently.
How does cancer affect my fertility?
Cancer treatment may affect your fertility in different ways. For some, it reduces their risk of getting pregnant while for others, it reduces their sexual function and risk of successfully carrying a pregnancy to term. The following, however, are factors that may determine if your fertility will be affected by cancer treatment.
- Your age
- The type of cancer
- Your fertility status before the start of treatment
- The length of the treatment plan
- The dose of treatment and type of medicines
- The duration since your last cancer treatment
- Other health conditions or factors
You should discuss the possibility of infertility after treatment and the possible duration of return to fertility, options for preserving fertility, use of contraception during cancer treatment, and the risk of birth defects after treatment and how long to wait before attempting pregnancy. The possibility of infertility may also affect you emotionally. You should speak with a therapist and join a support group.
How do treatment options affect fertility?
While these options may affect one’s fertility in variable ways, not all patients develop fertility problems after treatment.
- Surgery: surgeries for cancers in the reproductive system (e.g. Ovarian cancer) or cancers in the pelvis can directly affect the reproductive organs or cause damage to nearby structures that can affect fertility.
- Chemotherapy: several chemotherapy drugs can affect the ovaries and their functions. Some are more likely than others to cause infertility. They cause them to stop releasing eggs and oestrogen which leads to a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency. Symptoms similar to menopause, like cessation of periods, hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and irritability may be present. This may be temporary or permanent.
- Radiotherapy: radiation to the areas in the pelvic region, abdomen or sides may harm the reproductive organs. It may destroy the eggs in the ovary, thus making it difficult to get pregnant. It may also affect the uterus and its ability to support pregnancy to term. Radiation to the brain may also affect one’s fertility by affecting the pituitary gland – responsible for coordinating hormones necessary for ovulation.
- Hormone therapy: this may affect fertility due to the side effects of the medicines used.
There are different options for preserving your fertility depending on the risk of infertility after treatment. This may include egg freezing, embryo freezing or ovarian transposition. however, these procedures may not be readily available. Speak with your cancer care team to decide on the best options for you.
Still, got questions or need further clarification? Please drop it in the comment box or chat with our oncologists and psychologists directly. We would love to hear from you.
Until the next episode. Remember; It’s going to be okay at the end.
Loads of Love