Female Fertility: Risks Posed By Cancer and Cancer Treatments
If concerned about the fertility risks presented by cancer and cancer treatments, women should speak to a fertility specialist -- even before beginning chemotherapy treatment -- to learn about the particular drugs and radiation levels that will be effective in eradicating her cancer while causing little or no damage to the sensitive egg-producing processes within ovaries. The drugs that are alkylating or nitrosoureas, including (but not limited to) Cytoxan, Alkeran, Leukeran, and Mustargen, can be most damaging to female fertility levels. If you complete cancer treatments before the age of 30, you will have a bigger chance of regaining your healthy fertility levels once in remission.
Chemotherapy can have a profoundly negative effect on the eggs within the uterus, and dosage can be adjusted in order to not damage the eggs while still sending the cancer into remission. This particular treatment can also lead to early menopause, when no more eggs are released and pregnancy becomes impossible. Unfortunately, many doctors do not broach the subject of fertility with women as often as they do with men, so be prepared to initiate this discussion with your cancer team and ask about treatments that will keep your eggs and hormonal system safe so you can have children in the future.
Male Fertility: Cancer’s Effects on Sperm and Hormonal Health
Cancer treatments can lead to drops in fertility levels in men as well. Sperm cells are easily targeted by chemotherapy as they divide quickly within the testicles, especially if treatment is directed at the lower abdomen or pelvic area. Even if sperm counts do not drop significantly, the motility and morphology of the sperm may be damaged, preventing their efficacy in terms of impregnating an egg. The higher the levels of chemotherapy, the more difficult it will be to obtain normal levels of fertility after completing treatment. If all stem cells within the male reproductive organs are damaged during treatment, the infertility issues that are created may be permanent and untreatable.
For some men, returning to normal sperm count levels after finishing treatment can take up to a decade. Certain drugs can be used by men who are most likely to develop infertility issues, and radiation treatments can be adjusted such that they cause the least amount of damage while still effectively stopping the cancer in its tracks.
Whether or not you plan on having a child in the near future, speaking with a fertility specialist while you are undergoing the process of cancer diagnosis and treatment is a key for health and ensuring a fertile future. Remember, fertility issues can happen at any time throughout one’s lifespan, and sometimes big problems are caused by accidental damage, and do not result from life-threatening conditions such as cancer. Consult with your primary care physician to learn whether or not your fertility levels may be affected by your cancer or treatment.