Future Fertility for Cancer Survivors

At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we understand that thinking about how cancer may affect your fertility can be scary. Because of this, it’s likely you had a conversation regarding this topic with your oncologist prior to starting cancer treatment. Not only did you talk about your future ability to have children in general, you probably also talked about ways to preserve your fertility if conceiving children after treatment was something you wanted to try to do.

Now that your cancer treatment has ended, you might feel ready to start or grow your family. But as excited as you are, you might also feel nervous about the unknowns. To help put your mind at ease, we’ve compiled some of the most common questions cancer survivors have as they consider expanding their families. Keep in mind that fertility often depends on the type of cancer you had as well as the type of treatment you received. Therefore, the most accurate answers will come from your RMCC cancer care team as they will better understand your current situation.

Common Survivor Concerns About Post-Cancer Fertility

Will I be able to conceive a child after cancer treatment?  

Various factors including the type of cancer you had, the treatments you received, and how your body responded will determine the answer to this question.  

Women

Various chemotherapy drugs can also lead to a weakened heart, which could result in a dangerous pregnancy or early menopause (the absence of menstrual period which causes permanent infertility). 

  • Radiation therapy - A woman’s ability to become pregnant after treatment can be reduced by both internal (brachytherapy) and external radiation given to organs such as the abdomen, ovaries, uterus, pelvis, lower spine, and pituitary gland.
  • Surgery - Surgical removal of all or part of the uterus, cervix, one or both ovaries, or pelvic lymph nodes can make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. 

Men

  • Radiation therapy of chemotherapy can cause a reduced sperm count. In some cases, sperm production returns to normal over time (usually 10 to 24 months after treatment). In other cases, reduced sperm count can be permanent.  
  • Surgical removal of organs such as the bladder, prostate, one or both testicles, or pelvic lymph nodes may cause infertility in men.

How long should I wait after cancer treatment before trying to get pregnant?

As long as your oncologist feels as though you are ready, you are free to proceed with trying to get pregnant. With that said, there are times when waiting will be recommended. For example, men are often advised by their oncologist to wait 2 to 5 years after cancer treatment before trying to conceive a child naturally since cancer treatment can damage the DNA of sperm. Concerns regarding cancer treatments increasing the risk of conceiving a child with birth defects often weigh on the minds of survivors. Research, however, has found no increase in the rates of birth defects in children conceived by a parent who has undergone cancer treatment. 

For women, most oncologists recommend waiting at least 6 months from the date of their final chemotherapy to try to get pregnant. That is because this is about how long it takes for eggs damaged during cancer treatment to leave the body. There are times, however, when oncologists recommend waiting up to 5 years after finishing cancer treatment to conceive a child. This is typically influenced by whether there are hormone therapies or other treatments required after chemotherapy and radiation therapy is complete.

Can cancer be passed along to a new baby?

Currently, there is no evidence that a child is at an increased risk of cancer simply because they were conceived after a parent had cancer treatment. However, some cancers are hereditary, which means there may be an increased risk that your child will develop that cancer during their lifetime depending on the type of cancer you had. Keep in mind that this does not guarantee that your baby would develop cancer, it simply means his or her risk may be higher than that of the general public. Breast, ovarian, colorectal, and prostate cancers are cancers known to be passed down through generations. If you were diagnosed with one of these cancers, we encourage you to speak with your oncologist about genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Parenthood is Still Possible Regardless of Your Post-Cancer Fertility

If cancer treatment left you infertile and you did not take steps or know you could have taken steps to preserve your fertility before treatment (such as freezing your eggs or sperm) there are still several ways to become a parent. Thanks to donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogates who will carry your fertilized embryo to term, adoption, etc., you can still have the family you’ve dreamed of, even if your journey to parenthood isn’t quite what you had envisioned.