If you’re a woman of childbearing age who’s been diagnosed with cancer, you probably have questions about keeping your reproductive system healthy while you’re undergoing treatment.
Whose Fertility Is Affected by Cancer and Treatments?
There’s no blanket answer to which patients might experience side effects from cancer treatment, especially when the side effect could be infertility. When you ask your doctor about how your illness and recovery could affect your fertility, the answer will depend on a number of factors:
- Your “baseline fertility”—that is, are you fertile now?
- Your age
- Your type of cancer
- The kind of treatments you and your doctor have chosen, the dosage, and how long you’ll be undergoing those treatments
- Other health factors that could affect your reproductive health.
How Can Your Reproductive System Be Affected by Cancer Treatments?
The fact is, cancer is a powerful disease, and we need powerful weapons to fight it. Sometimes those weapons cause weaken us for a while, or even have lasting effects. They’re not pleasant to think about, but if you know the possibilities ahead of time, you’ll be better positioned to prevent them:
- Chemotherapy can cause your ovaries to stop releasing eggs and estrogen. This can be a temporary effect, or it can persist indefinitely.
- Radiation aimed near your abdomen, pelvis or spine can damage nearby organs. Depending on which organs are involved, your reproductive health could be disturbed.
- Surgery near your reproductive organs can cause scarring, which can affect your fertility indirectly.
- Hormone therapy can disrupt your menstrual cycle, thereby complicating fertility.
- Bone marrow transplants or stem cell transplants, in addition to being physically grueling procedures, can require high doses of chemotherapy or radiation and impact your reproductive system.
Your Options for Cancer Treatments and Fertility
When you undergo cancer therapy, you’ll have a long list of options for preserving your reproductive health, ranging from minimally invasive to high-tech, innovative procedures. Your options might include:
- Sperm and egg freezing
- Embryo freezing
- Tissue freezing
- Ovarian transposition, a relatively new process that involves moving your ovaries “out of the way” of radiation’s rays, and reduces your ovaries’ exposure to the radiation.
Infertility is a common side effect of cancer treatments, but you have options for keeping your reproductive system healthy. The fertility specialists at the MGH Clinic for Reproductive Health and Cancer will work with your Central Maine oncology team and keep you informed of all your options, all the time you’re in our care.