Women and men who desire to have children in the future often have many questions about how cancer treatment will affect their fertility. The ability for a woman to get pregnant or a man to father a child depends on numerous factors, including the type of drugs used to treat the cancer.
Many chemotherapy drugs can damage a woman’s eggs or a man’s sperm, making pregnancy more difficult to achieve. Your doctor will discuss the side effects of your chemotherapy drugs before you start treatment at Cecil B. Highland, Jr. and Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at UHC.
Factors for Women to Consider About Cancer Treatment and Pregnancy
If you’re a woman going through cancer treatment and you would like to get pregnant in the future, your chances are better if you complete it before age 35. This is true even if you stop having menstrual periods while undergoing treatment for cancer. Your cycle should re-adjust within several months of your last treatment. Some other important considerations include:
- Your fertility may not last as long as it would have without chemotherapy. Girls who underwent chemotherapy before they began menstruating and younger women whose periods resume after treatment are at a higher risk for premature menopause. This can be several years earlier than the age at which the typical woman completes menopause, which is 51. Early menopause means the body stops creating estrogen and progesterone and the ovaries stop releasing eggs.
- You should avoid getting pregnant during chemotherapy because the drugs can harm a developing baby and cause significant birth defects. Since you may retain fertility while undergoing treatment, it is important to use effective birth control.
- You are not necessarily fertile because your periods return. That is due to chemotherapy drugs, which can destroy or damage some of your eggs. If you have difficulty achieving pregnancy after chemotherapy, you may want to work with a fertility specialist to determine if you are still fertile.
- You should not get pregnant until at least six months after your last treatment session. Chemotherapy drugs are strong and can damage eggs that were in the process of maturing while you were going through treatment. The risk of miscarriage and giving birth to a baby with genetic defects after chemotherapy are both higher when you get pregnant too.
- Radiation therapy can damage your ovaries, particularly when it is aimed at the abdomen or pelvis. The higher the dose of radiation, the greater the likelihood of damage or destruction of the eggs and subsequent infertility or early menopause.
- When hysterectomy is part of cancer treatment, it results in immediate and permanent infertility.
Cancer Treatment and Male Fertility
Some drugs used for chemotherapy cause short-term damage to sperm while others render a man infertile for the remainder of his life. Temporary damage to the production of healthy sperm typically lasts three months or less. If you’re a man undergoing chemotherapy, we recommend using a reliable form of birth control during your treatment and several months after completing it. The good news is that no research studies indicate a higher incidence of birth defects for babies whose fathers underwent cancer treatment in the past.
Radiation therapy directed at or near the testes as well as stem cell or bone marrow transplants can reduce the number of sperm your body produces and their ability to function normally. Although you can still impregnate your partner, it becomes far less likely under these circumstances. Finally, surgery to the pelvic or genital area to treat cancer may cause permanent infertility.
Talk to Your Doctor About Fertility Concerns Before Starting Cancer Treatment
At Cecil B. Highland, Jr. and Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at UHC, we understand that cancer treatment is a stressful, uncertain time for everyone. It can be even more difficult to go through when it could potentially affect family planning in the future. If preserving fertility is a concern, your care team will provide you with information and resources so you can make the right choices for yourself and your family.
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