Fertility after cancer treatment
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Infertility related to cancer treatment can be temporary or permanent. The effect that treatment has on fertility can vary. There are many factors that effect it such as age, type of cancer, where in the body the cancer is, the type of treatment you have and how long you have the treatment for. For example, some chemotherapy drugs can stop periods while on treatment and they may or may not return after treatment ends. Hormone treatments in women can affect fertility and some hormone treatments are given for 5-10 years. If you want to become pregnant, you need to talk to your doctor about stopping the hormone treatment. Sometimes, if the chemotherapy or hormone treatment has put you into menopause, it may not be possible to get pregnant.
Men can have a reduced sperm count after treatment or not produce any sperm at all. This can be caused by chemotherapy, hormonal treatment, surgery or radiotherapy.
Checking fertility after treatment
After treatment, you can have tests to check your fertility. This may be a few months or up to a year after treatment. For women, a blood test can tell how well your ovaries are working and men can have a sperm test. Talk to your doctor or nurse who can organise these tests for you. They may also refer you to a fertility specialist.
Family planning after treatment
If your fertility returns after treatment, deciding when or if to have a baby can be a very difficult decision to make. Talk to your cancer specialist to check that it is safe for you to get pregnant or father a child. They may advise you to wait some time to give you a chance to recover from the effects of treatment and make sure the treatment has been fully successful.
Using frozen eggs or sperm
If you froze eggs or sperm before your treatment and are thinking about using them, you should talk to your oncologist. They can advise you about when and if this might be possible.
If you’re going ahead with using frozen eggs or sperm, you can have treatment at the Rotunda IVF or another fertility clinic. If you want to be treated elsewhere, it is possible for the frozen eggs or sperm to be transferred to a clinic of your choice. However, your clinic must agree to it beforehand and the transfer is done at your own risk.
If you would like more information talk to your doctor or nurse. You can also call our Support Line on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre. Your GP can give you advice as well.
Infertility means that you can’t become pregnant or father a child naturally without medical assistance. This can be very distressing for you and your partner.
In some cases there may be options for you to explore. For example, adoption, egg donation and fertility treatment. It is important to discuss your options and the timing of any treatment with your doctor. You can also receive specialist counselling to help you with this. Your doctor can refer you to someone who can help you become pregnant or to father a child.
Coping with infertility
It is not easy to hear that your fertility may be affected as a result of cancer. The sense of loss can be painful, no matter what age you are. You might not even have thought about having children before your cancer diagnosis. Your reaction can vary from acceptance to shock, sadness and silence to anger and depression. The reality may only sink in when treatment is over. Not being able to have children might make you feel like you have lost a part of your identity – you may feel less masculine or feminine. You may also lose some of your self-confidence.
It can take a while to talk about your feelings and emotions. When you are ready, you may find it helpful to talk openly to your partner, your family or a friend about these feelings.
If you would prefer to talk to someone outside your circle of family and friends, ask your cancer nurse about support groups that may be available. Speaking with people who have had similar experiences can be a great comfort.
You can also ask your doctor or nurse to arrange for you to speak to a counsellor or a specialist, if you cannot deal with any strong emotions that you may have. The Irish Cancer Society also funds free one-to-one counselling at our affiliated cancer support centres.
For more information
1800 200 700