Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-altering event. It brings up many questions that you may never have thought of before. Unfortunately, many questions may remain unanswered. If you are a young woman, one of those questions may involve your ability to have children.
Gynecologic cancers can occur during the reproductive years. Modern treatments include a concept known as fertility preservation. Here is a look at how a cancer treatment may affect your fertility and what you can do if you want to have children.
Cancer treatments vary based on the type of cancer, how much the cancer has progressed, and if it has spread. The affect on fertility will depend on the amount and types of treatment you receive.
Talk to your doctor or cancer treatment specialist about your concerns. Some fertility preservation options can be taken care of before treatment.
Some procedures are being studied for their ability to preserve fertility in women with cancer. However, some are considered experimental, and their feasibility and appropriateness will vary from patient to patient. Here are some of the options you may want to ask your doctor about:
Your options depend on many things. How will you know what is the best course of action?
When facing cancer—or any serious illness for that matter, it is important to remember that each person’s situation is unique. Not all options for preserving fertility may be appropriate or feasible in all women. For example, you may have to think about what it would mean to have fertility preserving surgery that may include a risk of recurrent cancer versus a more radical surgery that could eliminate cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are concerned about your fertility, talk to your doctor and discuss all the potential risks and benefits of certain treatments. Your doctor may be able to offer you ways of possibly preserving your fertility during your treatment. You may also want to ask for a referral to a social worker or other family planning specialist who can help you learn about other parenthood options as well, such as adoption.
Fortunately, many cancer caregivers recognize that successfully treating cancer means not only longer life, but
quality of life
as well. And for many cancer patients, the potential for parenthood is vital to their quality of life.
American Cancer Society
Office on Women's Health
Canadian Cancer Society
Women's Health Matters
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Lee SJ, Schover LR,Partridge AH, et al. American Society of Clinical Oncology recommendations on fertility preservation in cancer patients. J Clin Oncol. 2006;24(18):2917-2931.
Makar AP, Trope C. Fertility preservation in gynecologic cancer.
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Ovarian cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900705/Ovarian-cancer. Updated May 6, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016.
Preserving fertility in women with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/fertilityandwomenwithcancer/fertility-and-women-with-cancer-preserving-fertility-in-women. Updated November 6, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2016.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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