Chemotherapy & Fertility - Do They Mix?

Certainly, if a woman of child bearing years learns that she needs chemotherapy, one of her main concerns will be for her fertility. Will she be able to become pregnant after finishing the chemotherapy? Will there be long term effects and issues with the chemotherapy? These are all very important questions for a woman undergoing chemotherapy and ones that need to be addressed systematically.

Chemotherapy As It Affects Fertility

Certainly, the short and long term effects of chemotherapy on a woman's fertility will be influenced, in large part, by the types of drugs she is giving and the dosage of these drugs. A higher dosage will obviously have more of a chance of inhibiting her long term chances of fertility. In the short term, chemotherapy of most sorts will have short term consequences for fertility. Temporary infertility as a result of chemotherapy creates irregular menstrual cycles or a lack of menstruation during cancer treatments. Usually, however, when the treatment ends, the menstruation will go back to normal within six to twelve months following the end of the chemotherapy. Short term infertility of this sort only occurs in one third of all cases. Interestingly enough, younger women are more likely to experience this short term infertility as a result of chemotherapy than are older women.

Using Birth Control

It is very important to note that it is possible, in some cases, for a woman to become pregnant during chemotherapy. While she may not be having her period, her ovaries could still be producing eggs. This can result in a pregnancy, and being pregnant during chemotherapy is certainly not recommended. For this reason, women of childbearing years should discuss contraception with their doctor and should use some type of birth control while undergoing chemotherapy.

Long Term Infertility with Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs are usually the reason for long term infertility. Cancer fighting drugs that have been known to cause issues with fertility include Platinol (chemical name cisplatin) and Adriamycin (doxorubicin).  On the other hand, the drugs methotrexate 5-fluorouracil and vincristine pose little or no risk of infertility. As a reverse to short term infertility, chemotherapy is likely to cause permanent infertility more in older women who are reaching the age of menopause.

Fertility After Cancer

Women are usually told to wait at least two years after the end of chemotherapy before trying to conceive. This is a result of the fear that the cancer will recur; this risk is highest in the two years after treatment. Doctors don't want to have to worry about what type of treatment to offer to you in the event that the cancer does recur while you are pregnant. Should you become pregnant at the same time that you are battling cancer, you'll want to speak with your doctor about your options. If you are at the early stages of a pregnancy, and the treatment is urgent, you may be advised to terminate the pregnancy. During the later stages in a pregnancy, it may actually be possible to have some chemotherapy treatment, depending on the cancer type, the extent of the disease and the drugs being used. Some doctors will recommend, however, that you wait until after delivery to start treatment.

Certainly, these are all important and difficult issues. It is vitally important that you discuss all of your options with your doctor before undergoing any treatment. With the right education, you'll be able to make an informed decision about your care and will work towards achieving fertility once your cancer is eradicated.