Cancer treatments can take an immense toll on your body in many different ways. It is a tremendous feat to come out of such a consuming battle unscathed. No doubt, there are parts of the body that are left as a result without the ability to function quite the way they used to.
Chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments have proven to be an encouraging and successful way to eliminate these unwelcomed tyrants from the system, but what makes them so successful can also cause other damage along the way. Depending on if you are a man or woman will determine the types of ways your body could have been affected by cancer treatment resulting in infertility. Infertility can be caused by low levels of sperm or eggs, not enough hormones that instigates the reproduction process, or scarring of the reproductive organs which can inhibit the body from conceiving or carrying out normal development during the pregnancy.
If you or your partner have been affected in one or more of these ways, there are still options for you. Even if you cannot make a baby with your own eggs or your body cannot maintain a pregnancy, there are other ways to expand your family by exploring third-party parenting.
Proactive Fertility Preservation for Cancer Patients
One thing to keep in mind before undergoing cancer treatment is preservation. A good option for someone who is about to recieve radiation or chemotherapy is to consider egg freezing or sperm freezing prior to treatment. This way you will be able to use your own egg and sperm once you are ready to begin trying.
Options for Women After Cancer Treatment
You may consider egg donation if you are a woman with ovaries that can no longer produce eggs, or even surrogacy if your body is not up to the task of carrying a baby. Each woman is equipped with an “ovarian reserve” when they come into this world. This reserve is made up of a certain number of eggs that are stored in the ovaries. As a woman ages, the amount of eggs in her reserve continues to diminish.
This fact alone already creates difficulty for women wanting to get pregnant once they have reached 35 and older. The amount of eggs left in the ovaries can be detected by means of blood tests and ultra sounds. Certain types of cancer treatment can cause major hardship for your ovarian reserve. If this is indeed the case you may want to consider:
This is a form of assisted reproduction that has had an exceptionally high success rate. IVF involves the joining of an egg and sperm outside of the body and later placing the egg inside of a woman’s uterus once it has been fertilized. If this procedure is successful, the egg will then continue to develop into a baby.
Women with ovaries which no longer have eggs and wish to get pregnant have the option of using donor eggs. These are eggs that have been retrieved from another woman and donated specifically for a situation such as this. The rest of the process is carried out the same as IVF, using the partner’s sperm or sperm that has been donated as well. If is is going to be successful, however, your uterus must be be healthy enough to accept the fertilized egg.
Surrogacy and Gestational Carriers
If your treatment has resulted in an unhealthy uterus or for some other reason your body is not able to carry a pregnancy, surrogacy or gestational carriers is an ideal option. With surrogacy, another woman of your choosing would undergo the artificial insemination. Her egg will be used with the father’s sperm to carry out the fertilization.
This woman, the “surrogate”, will then carry your baby through the pregnancy. Gestational carriers are quite similar, but instead, your egg would be used for the insemination, making it so the baby does not share any genetics with the carrier whatsoever.
Options for Men After Cancer Treatment
Men always have the option of storing away their sperm. This is something that can be done before cancer treatment begins, which would ultimately preserve his fertility. If a man did not choose to do this he can use donor sperm. This is sperm that another healthy man has donated to a sperm bank specifically for situations such as these.
In most cases the donor of the sperm is anonymous. It is required that the sperm donor is screened for any diseases and anything else that could be harmful to the baby’s health. Sperm banks tend to gather extensive information about the donor for the receiver’s beneficial awareness.
Testicular Sperm Extraction
In some cases after treatment a man may not have sperm left in his semen, but still have some remaining in his testicles. Testicular sperm extraction is the process in which healthy sperm is collected from that region. It is a surgery where the doctor removes small pieces of tissue from the testicles and collects the sperm cells found within these pieces. After being collected, this sperm can then be used in IVF or frozen for later use.
Questions For Your Doctor
Your doctor is the one who knows you and your condition best and you should discuss everything you may be considering with them before making any decisions. Questions that would be good to ask your doctor after you have received cancer treatment are:
- How am I able to find out if I am infertile?
- What are my options if I am indeed infertile and want to have a baby?
- Has my ovarian reserve or sperm been affected by my treatments?
- Can fertility hormones or drugs cause more cancerous cells to develop?
- How does my age come into play in all of this?
The options listed above are commonly used fertility treatments for people having difficulty getting pregnant on their own, but remember -- everyone’s body and personal situation are different.