Cancer patients have a wealth of issues with which to contend. For those who have not yet had or who do not want to be done having children, the impact of their cancer on their fertility is one such issue. Indeed, both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can destroy a woman’s eggs, thereby negatively impacting her fertility.
Further complicating the issue of fertility for these women is that healthcare providers usually suggest that women wait at least 6 months following their cancer treatment to try to get pregnant to minimize the risk of birth defects that could occur because of damage done to the eggs during treatment. Many medical professionals will recommend waiting 2 years – the timeframe in which cancers tend to return if they are going to – before attempting to conceive.
For women who are planning to undergo one of these types of cancer therapies but also want to preserve their fertility, egg freezing offers a potential solution.
How does chemotherapy affect fertility?
The specific medications used and the associated doses, as well as the patient’s age, will all impact the way in which chemotherapy affects fertility. However, it is possible for women to become infertile as a result of chemotherapy because the therapy can destroy their eggs.
Older women have fewer eggs and thus chemotherapy is more likely to make them infertile than younger patients. Even if chemotherapy does not destroy all of a woman’s remaining eggs, it may cause her to undergo menopause 5 to 20 years earlier than she otherwise would have, reducing the amount of time she has to get pregnant following her cancer therapy.
How does radiation therapy affect fertility?
When radiation therapy is targeted to the pelvis or abdomen, it can destroy eggs like chemotherapy does. It can also damage the uterus and cause scarring that can get in the way of implantation and thereby reduce fertility. Damage to the uterus can also prevent the uterus from expanding properly upon fertilization and implantation, making women unable to carry a fetus normally. The results in this case tend to be miscarriage or premature labor.
Egg freezing is generally considered to be low risk. For women with breast cancer, however, it is important to consider that the hormone medication used to stimulate the ovaries in preparation for egg freezing increases estrogen levels. Because estrogen often promotes the growth of cancerous tumors in the breast, healthcare providers often recommend that breast cancer patients undergoing egg freezing take medication to combat the negative effects that these estrogen changes could have on their cancer.
Freezing your eggs before you undergo cancer therapy can protect those eggs from the damaging effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and potentially enable you to have a child naturally. It can also increase the chances that you have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier child following your therapy.