More than 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer annually during their reproductive years (under age 45). Cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted and hormonal therapies, can directly or indirectly cause infertility, impacting your ability to have a biological child.
1. Treatment Risks
It is important to know your personal risks and options for parenthood. For patients with cancer, risk factors for infertility include the patient’s fertility levels before treatment, type of cancer treatment, and age.
Many providers don’t bring up this topic, so you should feel empowered to request a consultation with a fertility expert.
2. Get Informed and Be Your Own Advocate
If you are at reproductive age, ask your oncology team about your fertility risks and preservation options. It’s best to discuss fertility before your cancer treatment begins, but you have options for wherever you are in your treatment plan.
If your care team does not bring up the risks to your fertility, it is up to you to start that conversation. After that conversation, you can visit a fertility specialist to discuss your options in more detail. Ask your care team for a referral.
If your child is diagnosed with cancer, you need to be completely informed about his or her specific treatment and its side effects, which may include infertility.
Prepubescent children may be too young to understand what that means to them, but it can become an issue for adult pediatric cancer survivors when they’re ready to start a family.
The following preventive procedures and options for fertility in patients with cancer may help reduce the risk for infertility:
- Ovarian or testicular tissue freezing
- Pelvic shielding
- Hormone replacement therapy
Talk to your child’s medical team about the risks and benefits of possible preservation procedures to help you make the best decision.
3. There are Many Ways to Become a Parent
There are several ways to become a parent after having cancer. Although many men and women conceive naturally after cancer treatment, the likelihood of natural conception after treatment may be diminished as a result of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
It is generally recommended to wait from 6 months to 2 years after finishing treatment to have your fertility tested. Always consult first with your healthcare team. Women should consult a doctor to make sure they are healthy enough to conceive and carry a pregnancy.
In addition, there are several fertility preservation options to consider before, during, and after cancer therapy. Some options may reduce the damage to the reproductive system and/or preserve the patient’s eggs or sperm. These options include:
- Ovarian shielding during radiation
- Freezing eggs or embryos before treatment
- Freezing sperm before treatment
Talk with your care team to learn about what options are best for you. LIVESTRONG Fertility can help you find a fertility clinic or sperm bank in your area that provides discounted preservation rates for patients with cancer.
In addition, assisted reproductive technologies make it possible to use frozen eggs, embryos, or sperm many years after freezing. Another option is to use donated eggs or sperm and surrogates.
4. Financial Assistance Programs for Fertility Preservation
You may be wondering if your insurance will pay for fertility preservation procedures. Unfortunately, coverage is limited. Some fertility preservation methods may be covered, such as ovarian shielding or radiation shielding of gonads, because they are considered a part of radiation treatment. Other procedures may not be covered; therefore, the financial costs of fertility preservation can be high and difficult to manage with the costs of cancer care as a whole.
Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to seeking fertility preservation services.LIVESTRONG Fertility has negotiated discounted rates with fertility clinics and sperm banks across the country to help men and women access parenthood options before and after cancer treatment.
In addition, the LIVESTRONG Foundation has partnered with EMD Serono to provide fertility medications for women at no cost.
5. LIVESTRONG Fertility Services
You can contact LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Services, where a fertility navigator can help you understand the risks related to your cancer diagnosis, provide information, and find discounts on fertility services and medications.