Fertility Preservation & Cancer Treatments: What to Consider

October 22, 2021
Fertility Preservation & Cancer Treatments: What to Consider

When considering cancer treatment, there are many things that a patient will be worrying about. Mainly this will be the efficacy of the treatment at combating cancer. Side effects may also be considered - but in this case, many side effects stick out in the public consciousness more than others. The association between chemotherapy and hair loss is well known, for example.

What many female cancer patients aren’t aware of before considering treatment options are the long-term effects that these treatments may have on their fertility and ability to have children. For many cancer patients, the trauma of cancer lasts long after a successful recovery in the form of feeling that their ability to have children has been “stolen”.

However, there are many options for fertility preservation available to those undergoing cancer treatment. By understanding how cancer treatment affects fertility, and methods of fertility preservation, a cancer patient can take back a sense of control over their post-cancer life.

How Cancer Treatment Can Affect Fertility 

There are many different working parts to the system of fertility within a human body. For a woman to be fertile she requires healthy eggs, the proper hormones to trigger the release of those eggs, the ability to release eggs, and a healthy uterus that will allow the egg to grow. If cancer treatment affects any part of this system, maintaining your fertility becomes more difficult. 

Cancer treatments can affect someone’s fertility in a variety of ways, ranging from subtle to obvious. If someone needs to have a sex organ removed because of a tumor, that will naturally remove any chance of having children. Chemotherapy drugs can also have effects on hormones, eggs, or sperm that can lead to temporary or permanent loss of fertility. Radiation therapy can cause sudden onset of menopause. The stress or anxiety caused by treatments can also have a wildly variable effect on fertility levels. 

Options for Fertility Preservation 

While cancer treatments can affect fertility in a variety of ways, there are also a variety of methods of fertility preservation. Cancer patients should never feel that treatment means the total end of the ability to have children. Options like egg harvesting and embryo freezing can help provide alternative routes to parenthood. These include some of the following:

Cryopreservation: Both eggs and embryo freezing allow for these seeds of life to be preserved, or “banked”. These processes both begin with egg harvesting. The egg can be frozen immediately, or injected with sperm to form an embryo, after which embryo freezing will take place. These eggs and embryos can, later on, be returned to the uterus and are pregnancy-induced. Men may also wish to have their sperm frozen and saved. 

Surrogacy: In some cases, while embryo freezing and egg harvesting can preserve these seeds of life, the cancer patient will no longer have a uterus, or have a uterus that is too damaged to have a pregnancy. In this case, a surrogate mother can raise these eggs to term.  

Ovarian Suppression: In some cases it may be possible, through the use of drugs, to temporarily “shut down” the ovaries, inducing a kind of short-term menopause. While the ovaries are shut down in such a matter, they are protected from damage and can be made functional again later. 

Ovarian Transposition: If radiation is the main concern, doctors may be able to use surgery to temporarily move the ovaries to a safer location within the body. This allows for fertility preservation by protecting the uterus for the duration of the radiation treatment. 

Donor Eggs: Even if a woman does not undergo egg harvesting or embryo freezing for fertility preservation, that does not preclude her from having children. Donor eggs or embryos from other women can be implanted into a woman who cannot make them herself.

Adoption: In some cases, a patient may simply decide that they don’t wish to bother with methods of fertility preservation. This does not mean that they don’t have to have a childless existence. There are many alternate options for raising children, including surrogacy and adoption. 

Learn More About Cancer Support

Fertility preservation is just one of many topics that cancer patients and their supporters need to worry about. From transportation to information to chemo care packages, fighting cancer is a full-time job. OneVillage is here to help - feel free to contact us with any questions about cancer support that you might have.

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