Preserving Fertility After Cancer Diagnosis - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Fertility Preservation

Preserving Fertility After Cancer Diagnosis

Finding out you have cancer can be scary, shocking, life changing and emotional. You may be solely focused on the diagnosis, your treatment options and getting started right away, which is crucial in your fight against the disease. But, it it’s also important to pause and think about your life after cancer.

Cancer treatments are highly advanced and much more successful today than ever before, meaning there is an increasing number of men and women getting cured of their cancer with a full and bright future to look forward to. Often, that future may include a family and children. Cancer treatments can save your life, but they can also impact your ability to have children.

Cancer cells are rapidly dividing cells and, to combat this, chemotherapy may be used as a treatment. Chemo is essentially designed to kill cells that are dividing in order to kill cancer cells, but it also kills normal, healthy cells.

Similarly, radiation is designed to kill cells. Radiation is targeted to where the cancer is to slow down cancer’s growth. If cancer is located in the pelvic or lower region of the body where reproductive organs are located, it can impact your fertility.

Women are born with all of the eggs they’ll ever have. The number and quality of these eggs decrease naturally as they age. Chemotherapy and radiation can damage and accelerate the loss of eggs, decreasing a woman’s fertility and potentially triggering premature ovarian failure.

Surgery is sometimes a part of cancer treatment – if your cancer requires the surgical removal of ovaries or uterus, this will make it impossible to get pregnant without the use of a donor egg or surrogate, respectively.

Cancer treatments don’t just affect women’s fertility. Men’s fertility can also be impaired by treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation can damage sperm quantity, quality and DNA. Treatment may also include the surgical removal of testicles, which leaves the man incapable of impregnating a partner.

But just because you were diagnosed with cancer and need treatment doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to start a family. Just like you have treatment options, you have options to preserve your fertility before you begin treatments.

Women have the option to preserve their eggs and use them later, once treatment is completed and they are ready to try to conceive. This procedure often involves taking medication to stimulate ovaries to produce eggs. The mature eggs are surgically removed and frozen, unfertilized, to be thawed and fertilized later. Alternatively, your eggs can be fertilized in the laboratory to create embryos, which then can be frozen and transferred to the uterus later.

Women may also have the option for ovarian suppression, which involves hormonal therapies that suppress ovarian function and protect eggs during cancer treatments. In some cases, the ovaries can be surgically relocated or transposed to an adjacent location to better shield them from harmful radiation.  

Men can preserve their fertility before cancer treatments by having their sperm frozen and stored for later use. As this process requires little preparation it is highly suggested to bank over the course of several days to obtain an adequate stock of specimens.

Being diagnosed with cancer and the treatments can be overwhelming, but if you’re at all concerned about your fertility, don’t wait to talk to your doctors. Getting all of the information about your options before your treatment will help you make an informed decision. Even if you ultimately decide to not have children, you’ll still have the option.