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.
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.
- Surgery—Removal of cancerous lesions in the areas of the cervix, ovaries, endometrium, and uterus may result in infertility. Factors such as the stage and spread of the cancer often dictate how extensive the surgery is, and, therefore, how much of an impact it may have on fertility.
- Radiation—In some cases, cancerous lesions on reproductive organs, such as the ovaries, are not surgically removed, but rather treated with radiation. In addition to killing the cancer cells, radiation may also damage healthy cells, thereby disrupting the function of the organs and possibly causing infertility.
- Chemotherapy—Unlike radiation, which is generally targeted directly to the area of the body with cancer, chemotherapy travels throughout the body in the bloodstream to kill cancer cells. As a result, it can also damage the reproductive system (even if the cancer is not present in the reproductive organs). Risk will vary based on several factors, including the type and dose of chemotherapy drug being administered.
Talk to your doctor or cancer treatment specialist about your concerns. Some fertility preservation options need to be taken care of before treatment.
Last reviewedDecember 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.