For mothers-to-be, the concern about the ability to begin a future family can be an additional stress factor while undergoing lifesaving treatments. Fortunately, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the end of your fertility. While the battle with cancer can be long and difficult, it is still possible to conceive afterwards. Let’s take a look at what happens in the aftermath of cancer.
If you underwent chemotherapy to treat your cancer, there are a few things that could affect your chances of conceiving. First, the types of medicines used during your treatment could affect your fertility. Certain medicines have different repercussions. Medicines like methotrexate (brand names: Mexate, Folex, Rheumatrex) fluorouracil (brand name: Adrucil), and vincristine (brand names: Oncovin, Vincasar PES, Vincrex) shouldn’t affect your fertility.
- doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
- daunorubicin (Cerubidine)
- epirubicin (Ellence)
- idarubicin (Idamycin)
These may also damage the heart’s cells, causing the heart to have to work much harder during pregnancy and labor. This can make a pregnancy dangerous to both the mother and the child.
After chemotherapy, some women experience menopausal symptoms, especially after chemo to the lower abdomen. These symptoms can include hot flushes, excessive sweating, dry skin, lethargy, irregular or no period, and mood changes. Unfortunately, these menopausal symptoms can also indicate that conception may be difficult.
Oftentimes, rather than distribute the cure to the entire body like chemotherapy, patients prefer to undergo targeted treatments like radiotherapy. Unfortunately, radiation therapy or radiotherapy has the potential to damage support cells and blood supply of the uterus. Radiation therapy can also increase the chances of miscarriage, early birth, low birth weight, and more.
While chemotherapy and radiation therapy affect everyone differently, age has a big impact on how a person’s body reacts to the treatments. Typically, the younger a woman is, the more eggs that are housed in her ovaries. Women who undergo cancer treatments before the age of 35 tend to have the best chance of conceiving afterwards. It’s possible for periods to subside and then return after treatments have ended. However, menstruating doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s possible to conceive. Many eggs are destroyed during the process of treating cancer. It’s important to consult a professional to determine if it is still possible for you to conceive after receiving cancer treatments.
Pregnancy After Cancer
A woman’s pregnancy after having cancer is typically treated the same as any other woman of the same age. “However, some women may have medical problems related to prior cancer treatment exposures, including hypothyroidism, or problems with heart or lung function, and may require the care of a maternal fetal medicine specialty obstetrician,” says Erica L. Mayer, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Frequent pregnancy and postpartum checkups are recommended for pregnant women who have had cancer.
While cancer treatments can most certainly inhibit a woman’s ability to conceive, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are not the definitive end to the chances of starting a family. Be sure to consult your doctor to assess the risks associated with conceiving and carrying after cancer treatments. For more information on fertility and techniques to get pregnant, sign up for our newsletter below.