Cancer Treatment and Fertility in Women
Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-altering event. It brings up many questions that you may never have thought of before. Unfortunately, many questions may remain unanswered. If you are a young woman, one of those questions may involve your ability to have children.
Gynecologic cancers occur about 12%-15% of women in the United States and in many cases during the reproductive years. Modern treatments include a concept known as fertility preservation. Here is a look at how a cancer treatment may affect your fertility and what you can do if you want to have children.
How Cancer Treatment Can Affect Fertility
Cancer treatments vary based on the how much the cancer has progressed and if it has spread. The affect on fertility will depend on the types of treatment you receive.
Talk to your doctor or cancer treatment specialist about your concerns. Some fertility preservation options need to be taken care of before treatment.
Options for Preserving Fertility
Some procedures are being studied for their ability to preserve fertility in women with cancer. Others however, are considered experimental and their feasibility and appropriateness will vary from patient to patient. Here are some of the options you may want to ask your doctor about:
Your options depend on many things. How will you know what is the best course of action?
Deciding What Is Best for You
When facing cancer—or any serious illness for that matter, it is important to remember that each person’s situation is unique. Not all options for preserving fertility may be appropriate or feasible in all women. For example, you may have to think about what it would mean to have fertility preserving surgery that may include a risk of recurrent cancer versus a more radical surgery that could eliminate cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are concerned about your fertility, talk to your doctor and discuss in detail all the potential risks and benefits of certain treatments, including, but not limited to, the potential effects on your fertility. Your doctor may be able to offer you ways of possibly preserving your fertility during your treatment. You may also want to ask for a referral to a social worker or other family planning specialist who can help you learn about other parenthood options as well, such as adoption.
Fortunately, many cancer caregivers recognize that successfully treating cancer means not only longer life, but quality of life as well. And for many cancer patients, the potential for parenthood is vital to their quality of life.
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Women's Health Matters
Female reproductive options. Fertile Hope website. Available at: http://www.fertile.... Updated 2007. Accessed December 4, 2012.
Lee SJ, Schover LR, et al., ASCO Recommendations on Fertility Preservation in Cancer Patients: Guideline Summary. J Clin Oncol. 2006;24(18):2917-31.
Makar AP, Trope C. Fertility preservation in gynecologic cancer. Acta Obstet Gynaecol Scand. 2001;80:794-802.
Ovarian Cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated December 3, 2012. Accessed December 4, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD