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Fertility in People Diagnosed with Cancer

Learn about the effects of HBOC on fertility and family planning, how pregnancy impacts hereditary cancer risk, and options for assisted reproduction.

Fertility in women diagnosed with cancer

Some cancers and cancer treatments, especially gynecologic surgery and radiation and certain chemotherapies, can affect fertility in women. These effects may be temporary or permanent.

The following factors may influence the likelihood of chemotherapy affecting fertility:

  • Type of chemotherapy: Cyclophosphamide, for example, often is used to treat breast cancer, but it has a high probability of causing infertility.
  • Dose of chemotherapy
  • A woman’s age and her ovarian reserve (i.e., the quality and quantity of her eggs). Older women have less ovarian reserve and therefore their fertility is more affected by chemotherapy treatment as compared to younger women.

Women who are diagnosed with cancer may have options to preserve their fertility. These options include:

Not all experts agree that menstrual suppression protects fertility in premenopausal women who must undergo chemotherapy. Freezing embryos or eggs remains the best method to preserve fertility in women of reproductive age and is the most likely approach to result in pregnancy after cancer.

Women should speak with their health care providers about their fertility preferences before beginning treatment. National guidelines recommend that, if possible, oncologists speak with young adults with cancer about fertility preservation prior to starting treatment. 

Oncologists and fertility experts work together to expand fertility options for cancer survivors, which is particularly important for individuals with cancers caused by inherited mutations because these people are more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age, before they have completed their family. 

Updated 10/02/2017

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