Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the US. Cancer can be a stressful, frightening experience, and to make things worse, cancer treatments can affect your ability to get pregnant. Pregnancy after cancer can and does happen, but it depends on a number of factors, including the quality of your health care.
At The Fertility & Gynecology Center - Monterey Bay IVF in Monterey, California, we work with patients who have lived through cancer and cancer treatments, and understand the toll that it can take on a person and on a couple. Our warm and compassionate team is led by Dr. Edward J. Ramirez, a fertility specialist who offers skilled care for patients with a history of cancer.
What happens to my reproductive system when I have cancer?
A cancer diagnosis is a stressful, life-changing event. You have to work with your doctor, your medical insurance, and sometimes loved ones to gain a full understanding of the disease, and to arrange for your treatment and care. Your lifestyle will inevitably change, and your outlook on the future may shift, as well.
Having a child may not seem like an immediate worry in the face of a cancer diagnosis, but for the sake of understanding what’s possible in the future, it’s important to talk with your oncologist about your desire to have children. The type of treatment you receive matters when it comes to your overall health and fertility.
The good news about cancer is that the disease itself rarely affects fetuses. Even in the case of aggressive cancers that affect your reproductive system, it’s extremely unusual for cancer to penetrate the womb and harm the fetus. The possible threat to an unborn child comes from the array of available cancer treatments, all of which are chemically based and circulate through your bloodstream.
What cancer treatments can hurt my ability to have a baby?
There are a number of different ways to treat cancer, all depending on the type of cancer you have and the severity of the disease. Understand also that your reproductive system is sensitive and can be damaged by procedures used to treat your cancer.
Tumors that are on or near any part of your reproductive system have the potential to interfere with your fertility, and so does their surgical removal. Strange though it may sound, removing a tumor from your colon, anus, or rectum can make it more difficult for you to get pregnant. In addition, hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) and oophorectomies (removal of the ovaries) will outright prevent the possibility of pregnancy.
For people who survive cervical cancer through trachelectomy, or removal of part of the cervix, the ability to carry a child to term remains intact. However, tumors removed from the pelvic area or the abdomen can cause scarring to the reproductive organs.
Radiation therapy can cause scarring of your uterus, which reduces the ability of your uterus to stretch for a growing fetus. This makes carrying a child to term risky, raising your chances of low birth weight, premature birth, and miscarriage.
Radiation therapy for any condition in your pelvic area can be easily absorbed by ova, or eggs, damaging them and making them unviable for a successful pregnancy. We should also note that receiving radiation therapy while pregnant is known to cause harm to an unborn child.
There are a number of chemotherapy treatments that are known to interfere with fertility. Chemotherapy is engineered to target cells that divide quickly, like cancer cells. Oocytes, or immature eggs, also tend to divide quickly, and will thus be targeted by the drugs. Chemotherapy is also known to cause premature menopause, which greatly affects the ability to get pregnant.
Hormone therapy, while unlikely to affect your ability to get pregnant, can elevate your risk of having a child with birth defects. This type of therapy also raises your risk of early menopause. Menopause is the post-fertile period for women, and pregnancy is not possible after the transition.
Can I still have a baby after surviving cancer?
Generally speaking, it’s still possible to get pregnant after cancer treatment, though your chances can be affected by the type of treatment you receive. The dosage of your treatment, your age, overall health, and which cancer treatment you’re prescribed all play a role in your ability to get pregnant. If you’re struggling to get pregnant, Dr. Ramirez may have options that will help you create the family you and your partner envision. If you’re ready for a consultation, call our office today at 831-205-2593, or book an appointment online.