gdc
Fertility PreservationPediatric CancerSexuality & CancerSurvivorship

Fertility Preservation: What You Need to Know Before Starting Cancer Treatment

Many young adults with cancer don’t ask questions about their ability to have children after cancer treatment, despite wanting to have biological children. Not asking the right questions about fertility preservation before starting chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments for cancer can lead to fertility problems and even infertility later on.
August 2016 Vol 2 No 4
Jessica Miller

Many young adults with cancer don’t ask questions about their ability to have children after cancer treatment, despite wanting to have biological children. Cancer treatments can affect different organs of the body, including the reproductive organs. Not asking the right questions about fertility preservation before starting chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments for cancer can lead to fertility problems and even infertility later on.

A new study from the American Cancer Society (published in July 2016 in the journal Cancer) shows that some young women report serious regrets about the impact of cancer treatments on their fertility. With the potential to have such a big impact on their lives, why do many young men and women remain in the dark about undergoing fertility preservation before cancer treatment? The answer is simple: no one is discussing it with them.

Although there are several reasons that young adults don’t undergo fertility preservation before cancer treatment—such as cost, time constraints, and emotional distress—many are not even aware that it’s needed.

Cancer Treatment Can Affect Fertility

The recent study shows that many female cancer survivors aged 18 to 35 years didn’t receive enough information about their risks for infertility and early menopause because of treatment. And more than half of the women felt that their options for fertility preservation were not discussed enough with them before treatment.

For women, cancer treatment can affect fertility by damaging the reproductive organs or hormone-producing organs needed for reproduction. Damage to the ovaries can cause the loss of healthy eggs, which can lead to infertility or early menopause. For men, certain treatments can damage the production of sperm and can limit the sperms’ ability to function. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy (especially around the pelvic area) can affect fertility, as can the surgical removal of reproductive organs (such as the uterus or testicles) because of cancer. 

Fertility Preservation Options

The main well-established fertility preservation options include:

  • Collecting and freezing unfertilized eggs (oocyte cryopreservation), which can be used later for in-vitro fertilization
  • Freezing and preserving the embryo (embryo cryopreservation), which can be used later for in-vitro fertilization
  • Ovarian transposition (oophoropexy), which means surgically moving the ovaries to another part of the body that will not be affected by radiation
  • Collecting, freezing, and banking sperm for men

New experimental options still being researched include gonadal and ovarian shielding, in which a shield is placed over the pelvic area to reduce exposure to radiation; ovarian transposition, in which the ovaries are moved out of the field of radiation; and for men, removal of testicular tissue, which can be placed back in the body later.

Reproductive and Emotional Concerns

Undergoing fertility counseling before cancer treatment can reduce regrets after treatment; however, counseling alone is not enough. Getting the facts about common fertility misperceptions is a first step for cancer survivors, and getting the support they need is the second.

Survivors need information on dating and discussions related to their fertility status. More than half of the women in the study worried that their partner or future partner would be disappointed if they could not have children.

Young survivors also need information on alternative family building options, such as in-vitro fertilization, which refers to new methods for becoming pregnant for people who are unable to do so on their own. Of the women in the study who were infertile because of cancer treatment, 92% wanted to have children, but 43% felt they did not receive enough information about alternative family planning options.

Share this:

Recommended For You
Ovarian CancerSurvivorship
SOAR Beyond the Trauma of a Cancer Diagnosis
By Tiffany R. Easley
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 3, Tiffany R. Easley learned the power of owning one’s story, detailing her powerful “SOAR” survivor mindset.
SurvivorshipThroat Cancer
A Man’s Roadmap to Surviving Throat Cancer
By Ed Rossman
After being diagnosed with throat cancer, Ed Rossman kept in contact with others through the online CaringBridge service, remaining hopeful through music sessions and practicing a weekly mantra.
Breast CancerPatient StoriesSurvivorship
Staying Positive
By Neelam Shinde
Neelam Shinde, a 2-time breast cancer survivor, reflects on the power of positive thinking and remembering that setbacks are integral parts of life.
Breast CancerPatient StoriesSurvivorship
My Journey from Diagnosis to Survival
By Sandra Lewis
When Sandra Lewis found out she was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation, she was determined to get informed. She learned to embrace the moment, focused on the facets of her life that she could control, and remembered to smile as part of healing.
Last modified: March 12, 2018

Subscribe to CONQUER: the patient voice magazine

Receive timely cancer news & updates, patient stories, and more.

Country