The Link Between Childhood Cancer and Infertility

Past research shows that survivors of childhood cancer are at risk for infertility, but this new study reveals that pregnancy is just as possible for cancer survivors as for people who have never had cancer.

Researchers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital used data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study to look at the link between childhood cancer and infertility.

“What we found delivers a really nice message to clinicians,” said Dr Lisa Diller, chief medical officer of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s and medical director of the David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “If you have a patient who is a childhood cancer survivor and is self-reporting clinical infertility, the chances are good that she will become pregnant. Women who have a history of childhood cancer treatment should consider themselves likely to be fertile. However, it might be important to see an expert sooner rather than later if a desired pregnancy doesn’t happen within the first six months.”

So, if you had cancer as a child or teenager, you are just as likely to get pregnant as a woman who did not have cancer.

Fertility Tips for Childhood Cancer Survivors

Cancer and related treatments – including chemotherapy – don’t necessarily mean you’ll be infertile and unable to conceive children. Your chances of conceiving are similar to a person who has faced cancer. The two most important things to remember are to be aware of how your treatments affect your chances of conceiving a baby, and to keep a close eye on your fertility for the future.

Be aware of how cancer treatments affect fertility

Different types of treatments for different types of cancer affect your fertility levels in different ways. This is an important thing to remember when you’re trying to get pregnant – and an important piece of information to give to your fertility doctor.

“Women getting alkylating agents or radiation to the pelvis or abdomen should be triaged for fertility preservation. In addition to being at highest risk to report infertility, female cancer survivors who received those cancer therapies were the least likely to conceive once they had infertility,” said Barton, who is now a staff physician at the Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine and clinical professor at the University of Nebraska Medical School.

This new research on cancer and infertility will help health care providers guide patients based on the treatment protocol for their cancer. “If you’re newly diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, for instance, you may be slightly more likely to experience infertility, but I don’t necessarily think you need to delay your therapy to freeze your eggs.”

For more information on the link between cancer and infertility in women, read Getting Pregnant if You Have Cancer.

Monitor your fertility for the future

Research funded by Cancer Research UK shows that new strategies are needed to encourage men who banked sperm before having cancer treatments to engage with fertility monitoring programs. If cancer survivors miss follow-up appointments to monitor fertility, they won’t receive education and or information about options available to them. Plus, men are in a different situation than women – if they banked sperm, they may be unaware that their sperm may be disposed of if ongoing infertility cannot be confirmed. This could have a major impact on their future life choices and ability to father children.

So, if you’re a child or adult survivor of cancer, you need to stay on top of your fertility! There is a link between cancer and infertility, but it can be weakened if you contact a fertility doctor early and monitor your fertility.

If you want to increase your fertility, read How to Get Pregnant – 5 Most Important Tips From the National Institute of Health.

If you have any comments on childhood cancer and infertility, please share below.

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