How Cancer Can Affect Fertility (and What You Can Do About It)
Ask about your options
If you’ve just learned that you have cancer, it’s normal to have questions for your care team. You might wonder about your treatment, your prognosis, and what to expect next. But it’s also important to ask about how your cancer might affect your future in the years to come—including your fertility.
If you are younger than age 45, your doctor or nurse will likely discuss fertility with you. But don’t be afraid to bring it up.
“Having a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming,” says Eileen Seltzer, BSN, RN, OCN. “Sometimes people can feel like they don’t want to ask any questions. I encourage patients and family members to ask questions of your oncology team. This discussion needs to start right at the beginning of your cancer journey.”
Cancer and fertility concerns
Cancer or its treatments can make it hard for a person to have children. Whether your fertility is at risk depends on several factors, including:
The type of cancer you have.
Cancers with a higher risk of affecting fertility include breast, uterine, cervical, ovarian, testicular, and thyroid, and blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
The type of treatment you receive.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can directly affect fertility—for instance, by damaging, removing, or scarring reproductive organs and lowering sperm or egg production. People taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen should delay getting pregnant for five to 10 years. As a result, these women are often older when they try to have children, which may affect their fertility.
Your fertility before cancer.
In people with undiagnosed fertility issues, cancer treatments may pose a greater risk.
Even a single cancer treatment can potentially affect fertility. So it is best to explore fertility preservation as early as possible—ideally before treatment starts.
Fertility preservation options
Your cancer care team can help you understand how cancer might affect your fertility—and what you can do about it. Common options include:
Sperm banking. Sperm banking is a quick and simple way for men to preserve their fertility. Sperm are collected and frozen for future use. Sperm banking can take one or two appointments.
Egg or embryo freezing. With egg freezing, eggs are removed from the ovaries and frozen. Later, they can be thawed, fertilized with sperm in a lab, and placed in the uterus. With embryo freezing, the extracted and fertilized eggs are frozen as embryos for future use. Egg or embryo freezing takes about two to three weeks to complete.
Preserving hope for the future
At Fox Chase, if you’re interested in fertility preservation, a member of the Sharon Schwartz Oncofertility Committee will contact you within 24 hours of receiving a referral from your oncologist.
Fox Chase’s cancer and fertility program is composed of nurses, social workers, physicians, and other providers.
“We all have a passion for this,” says Anjali Albanese, MSW, LSW, OSW-C. “Having someone advocate on your behalf is helpful.”
The Fox Chase team will help you learn more about your options. They’ll also offer to help you make an appointment with a fertility center close to you, often within 24 to 48 hours. Team members can even help you find financial assistance.
The chance to preserve your fertility can offer hope at a time when you may feel as if your life is out of control.
“Preserving fertility can give a person a light at the end of the tunnel of treatment,” Seltzer says.
The cancer and fertility program at Fox Chase is one more way we surround you with support. To connect with Fox Chase, call 877.627.9684 or request an appointment online.