Living with cancer blog
Cancer treatment and fertilityBy Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.
Are you thinking about having a family? Certain cancer treatments and surgeries can affect fertility or cause sterility. Cancer treatment often is urgent and fertility may not be the first thing on your mind.
However, it's important to ask good questions and find out more about your individual situation prior to treatment when it comes to preserving your fertility options for later.
Cancer treatments may have temporary or permanent effects and may depend on your cancer type and your age. Common causes of infertility in cancer patients include:
- Chemotherapy — can depend on drug dosage, length of treatment and type. Chemotherapy drugs called alkylating agents (such as busulfan, cisplatin, cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide and melphalan) are a class of drug that can have major effects on fertility.
- Radiation — varies depending on the location and dose of radiation. The most severe damage occurs if radiation is given in the area of the ovaries or testicles.
- Surgery — removal of the testicles for men and ovaries, uterus and cervix for women.
- Age — women older than age 40 are more likely to go into early menopause as a result of cancer treatment.
To preserve fertility prior to treatment:
- Both men and women should ask about chemotherapy effects and discuss options that may decrease the chance of permanent damage.
- Women may want to explore embryo freezing, ovarian transposition and radiation shielding.
- Men may want to discuss sperm banking prior to treatment and radiation shielding.
Fertility measures after treatment is completed may include:
- Using frozen embryos or donor eggs
- Pregnancy surrogate
- Conception with the help of a fertility expert
- Testicular sperm extraction
- Donor sperm
If you'd like to learn more about fertility options, resources include:
- Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/in-depth/fertility-preservation/art-20047512)
- Fertile Hope (www.livestrong.org/fertilehope)
- Oncofertility Consortium (www.myoncolfertility.org)
It's important to know that you may have options to preserve or protect your fertility. Feel free to bring this topic up early in the conversation with your treating doctor so that it can be addressed as part of your treatment plan.
I'd love to hear back from you. Please share your experiences on this topic.