If you are undergoing cancer treatment, your fertility may be affected in several different ways. First, an unplanned pregnancy during treatment could result in serious problems. Second, the cancer treatment may cause infertility and you may find yourself unable to conceive. For patients who wish to become parents, this can be a devastating blow.
Cancer treatment drugs and radiation can cause genetic changes in sperm and eggs. An embryo that was conceived during cancer treatment may have genetic damage and is likely to miscarry early in the pregnancy. There may also be an elevated risk of having a baby with a birth defect. After treatment, conception may prove difficult or impossible.
Fertility Preservation for Women
There are some steps you can take to preserve your fertility during your cancer treatment so that once treatment is completed, you still have a good chance of being able to conceive. Embryo freezing is one strong option. You may have your eggs removed and fertilized with your partner’s or a donor’s sperm; the embryos that result are frozen and stored. Or, you may choose to have your eggs frozen unfertilized, particularly if you are not in a committed relationship. You can later have the eggs thawed and fertilized.
Fertility Preservation for Men
Preserving fertility for men going through cancer treatments is easier, less expensive, and more effective than it is for women. It is usually as simple as collecting and freezing a sample of semen. It can later be thawed and used for either in vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination. Even men with poor sperm quality – because of illness or stress, for example – have a good chance of being able to conceive if there are a few live sperm. The healthiest sperm will be captured and used to fertilize a woman’s eggs in a laboratory.
There are other options for becoming parents after cancer treatment, including using donor eggs or donor sperm, having a surrogate pregnancy, or adoption. If you’d like to have children after cancer treatment, talk with your doctor about this wish as soon as possible.