Q. I finished treatment and would like information on fertility issues and cancer survivors. Can you help me?

A.

Unfortunately, one potential effect of cancer and cancer treatment is the loss of fertility in both men and women. Depending on cancer type and treatment methods, your age, and other factors, your fertility may be compromised on a temporary or permanent basis. To determine this likelihood and possible solutions, it is important that you talk to your oncologist and a fertility specialist. The American Cancer Society has comprehensive information on the main causes and options for cancer-related infertility for women and for men. For women, causes include:

  • damage to your eggs caused by certain kinds of chemotherapy
  • damage to your ovaries caused by radiation
  • removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or ovaries (oophorectomy)
  • hormonal treatments

If you have a uterus and ovaries, you may still be able to get pregnant. Some medical professionals recommend waiting 6 months before trying, to avoid fertilization of damaged eggs. A doctor specializing in high-risk obstetrics can check that your ovaries are still functioning and that your heart and lungs are strong enough to withstand pregnancy. If you were not able to freeze embryos (cryopreservation) before beginning cancer treatment but you still have your uterus, you may consider:

  • getting implanted with donor eggs through IVF (in-vitro fertilization)
  • getting implanted with a donor embryo through IVF
  • adoption

For men, infertility may be caused by:

  • damage to your sperm cells caused by chemotherapy
  • damage to sperm cells caused by radiation
  • surgery to remove your testicles or prostate
  • hormonal therapies

Some men recover their ability to produce sperm after cancer treatment (maybe a year or later). If you did not freeze your sperm before treatment but you can still produce sperm, you may consider:

  • getting your semen analyzed to determine the level of DNA damage to your sperm
  • adoption

LIVESTRONG provides information on fertility options at all stages of cancer treatment to help you make an informed decision based on your individual needs. You can also find information to help deal with the financial, practical and legal aspects of infertility.

Dealing with fertitlity issues can be stressful, and CancerCare offers counseling and support groups to help better manage these concerns.