Melinda was hit by her physician with a double whammy. Not only did she have cancer, but the cancer treatments would leave her infertile as well. She watched her dreams of carrying a child erode, but in her fight for her life, she was extremely concerned with surviving for her 2-year old daughter. Should she even be thinking about having another child?
There is conflicting literature on whether cancer survivors can get pregnant. It would be great if there was a cut and dried yes or no answer. Unfortunately, the answer is it really depends. Chemotherapy and radiation are great to help you fight cancer and attack harmful cells, but their side effects may be not so great for your fertility. It will depend on three main factors: 1) where the cancer is; 2) the type of treatment you need; and 3) any of the lingering side effects from your treatments (e.g. early menopause).
Lets explore why. Being informed will help you both physically and emotionally, so you can research all your options and decide on a course of action that is best for you.
Certain types of chemotherapy can affect your fertility. Cytoxan (known also as cyclophosphamide) is part of a group of chemo drugs called alkylating agents. These are more likely to affect the reproductive organs when given at higher doses.Chemotherapy may cause early menopause which can end your chance for a natural pregnancy. Also, if you have had a lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) plus radiation or a mastectomy, breast feeding from the affected breast is not advised.
Radiation, whether it is direct or scattered can also affect reproduction. For women, it can damage the ovaries and for men it can lower the sperm count.
Depending on where the cancer is, doctors may have to take a surgical approach to removing a reproductive organ itself (cervix, uterine, testicles)
Is It Even Safe?
Lets start out with the fact that according to Cancer.net, having a baby after cancer treatments is safe for both the mother and child. Being pregnant will NOT decrease your life span. Even the Susan G. Komen website dedicated to breast cancer states: studies done to date show having a child after treatment does not lower a womans chances for long-term survival. However, most doctors recommend you wait between three and five years after your cancer treatment to conceive.
Because any eggs that were potentially damaged by the cancer treatment should be expelled by then. Additionally, a recurrence of the cancer may make it very difficult to treat if you are pregnant. This is particularly true with breast cancer, because the drugs you may need to help you get pregnant boost estrogen levels and can increase your risk of the cancer coming back.
There is other more personal decision to consider than just the medical ones. What if you have a baby and the cancer reoccurs is it fair to him/her? Read how some cancer survivors coped with this dilemma.
Understand that new drugs are coming on the market every day. For instance, a new drug called goserelin has been developed to be used in conjunction with chemotherapy for breast cancer patients that temporarily shuts down a womans ovaries so menopause can be forestalled.
The bottom line is to ask your oncologist or oby/gyn whether the medications you are taking can adversely affect your fertility. In fact, talk to a fertility specialist before you begin treatment if possible. Remember that with all the new assisted reproductive technologies, preserving your eggs or sperm can be an extremely viable option. Hold on to the fact that many cancer survivors have conceived children and have healthy, full-term pregnancies without compromising their own health in the process.
About The Author:
Jeffrey A. Kasky, Esq. is a Florida adoption lawyer and Vice President of One World Adoption Services, Inc., a Florida-licensed not-for-profit child placing agency. Jeffs diverse career experiences include co-authoring the book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before
Choosing Adoption with Robert A. Kasky, Florida-certified law enforcement officer, and involvement in the autism community, including a TV show focused on helping families with legal issues related to autism called Spectrum at Law on The Autism Channel. A practicing attorney since 1995, he has worked on more than one thousand adoption cases.