Your fertility will be affected by the type and dose of chemotherapy or radiation you receive for treatment, your age, your previous chemotherapy and radiation exposures, and your gender. You can take steps to protect your fertility before treatment.
Fertility after treatment
Women often stop ovulating for a period of time after treatment. Some experience premature menopause. Men often stop making sperm completely or have very low sperm counts during cancer treatment and for several months after treatment. Not every male will resume normal sperm production. Infertility can be a result of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. It is best to see a fertility specialist to monitor fertility after cancer treatment.
A small percentage of people, usually of younger reproductive age, do regain their fertility after treatment, but this may take months to years to occur and can be hard to predict for each person.
Routine testing of sex hormones and sperm or ovarian function is often needed to see if fertility will be restored. However, unexpected pregnancies have occurred, so please discuss your plan for birth control with your doctor to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
Protect your fertility
It is recommended that all patients who are interested in preserving fertility have their options evaluated prior to treatment. This allows the time, and best chances, for storage of sperm, eggs, or embryos. Talk to your doctor or nurse to learn more. A fertility specialist (Reproductive Endocrinologist) can provide more information about your current fertility status and the fertility options available to you.
Options for storing eggs or sperm
For women, the standard approach is to harvest eggs, which are then fertilized by sperm and stored as embryos. Several weeks may be needed to allow for the harvesting of eggs. A partner or sperm donor is necessary. These embryos can be frozen for many years for use later. Similarly, eggs alone can be harvested and frozen without adding sperm. These eggs can be frozen for many years and used later to create embryos for implantation in the uterus.
For men, sperm banking is the standard approach. The simplest way is to collect ejaculated sperm, but there are several different methods to get a sample. Sperm can be stored for many years for use later.
There are other techniques used to collect and store sperm, eggs or ovarian tissue, many of which are still considered experimental. Many of the costs associated with fertility preservation are not covered by insurance. However, programs such as Livestrong’s Sharing Hope can increase access to fertility preservation services for cancer patients. Ask your Reproductive Endocrinologist for more details.
If you or your loved one is interested in consulting with a reproductive specialist, please contact your oncologist for a referral. For more information, contact the Oncoreproduction Clinic at (206) 606-4100.