Cancer Treatments & Conception
Develop a Plan of Action
It is only in recent years that women are being advised of the reality that the treatment for cancer they may be subjected to can leave them infertile. For many years this fact was overlooked as the focus on arresting the cancer and restoring health overshadowed everything else. Infertility is a complication of cancer treatment for both men and women, and something that needs to be thought about and planned for before the cancer treatments begin. Cancer patients need not worry though because there are a variety of methods available to preserve fertility for patients undergoing cancer treatment today.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, all common treatments for cancer, all have the potential to cause infertility. Depending upon the dose, type of drug and method of application, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can leave a man or woman barren. Surgery on affected reproductive organs may lower fertility. If cancer treatment damages endocrine glands and endocrine-related organs, or if it alters the part of the brain that controls these glands and organs, then fertility problems arise. A man's sperm count and motility may be affected and in women, the menstrual cycle, ovulation and premature menopause all present complications. On top of all of this, if a man or woman is sexually active during cancer treatment and a woman becomes pregnant, there is a very good chance the therapy being used to cure the cancer will harm the baby and may cause birth defects.
The Valley of Decision
If a couple is of child-bearing age, then decisions about preserving fertility should be made before treatment begins. Speaking with the doctor and/or the reproductive endocrinologist can help determine a course of action which will be best for the individual and their needs. It is unfortunate that not all things work for all people. Various factors can affect the fertility preserving procedures, such as stress induced by having to make a decision about fertility on top of having to deal with cancer. Seeking the help of a counselor during this period could be helpful.
Sometimes the stress of fertility-preserving procedures can create a situation where the procedure is ineffective. IVF, in vitro fertilization, and embryo cryopreservation, which is freezing fertilized eggs for later implantation, can be very costly as well.
Options, New and Old
There are some options though for both men and women. Both can protect their reproductive organs from radiation therapy if they are not the target of the cancer. Sperm and egg banking are another option which is gaining in popularity. If a young male has not yet reached sexual maturity, there is an investigational procedure wherein testicular tissue is removed, frozen and stored for implantation after cancer treatment. The same type of procedure is under investigation for women, involving the similar surgery for ovarian tissue.
The bottom line is that if you are going to be exposed to potentially sterilizing drugs or treatments for cancer and having a family is something you want to do - then it could be beneficial for you to check out your options before you begin cancer treatments. It may well be too late afterwards.