Female Fertility and Chemotherapy

If you're interested in conceiving or are planning to raise a family at some point down the line, you should be aware of potential risks to your fertility. A wide variety of health concerns may compromise female fertility, some of them easily remedied and some of them without recourse. One of the most life-altering treatment procedures that you can undergo is chemotherapy, and many women wonder if this type of cancer treatment may affect their fertility. Read on for a brief overview of the ways that chemotherapy can potentially affect fertility.

Chemotherapy and the ovaries

The primary concern of chemotherapy is that it can inhibit the proper functioning of the ovaries. This may cause some reduction in fertility and may make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. It may also completely shut down the functioning of the ovaries, thereby making it impossible for a woman to become pregnant. However, the difficulty with chemotherapy and its effects on the ovaries is that it's impossible to predict how the treatment will work.

In many cases, the effects of chemotherapy will be temporary. You may experience difficulty conceiving during and shortly after the chemotherapy treatment. In other cases, chemotherapy may reduce or eliminate your chances of conception permanently. This is somewhat linked to the location and type of chemotherapy, as well as the duration of the treatment. Additionally, younger women are more likely than older women to experience only short term reductions in fertility.

Conception during chemotherapy

It's not uncommon for menstrual cycles to be disturbed by chemotherapy. Many women find that they cease menstruating entirely. This may or may not be an indication of a change in fertility, however. It's entirely possible that eggs may still be released each cycle, and for that reason, it's important to continue to use contraception during chemotherapy treatments in order to avoid conceiving.

Preserving fertility

There are two primary ways of helping to preserve fertility during a chemotherapy treatment. Both of these techniques require advance notice and action. The first is to have eggs or embryos frozen prior to chemotherapy. These eggs or embryos can later be implanted in the uterus after the treatment is concluded in a type of artificial fertilization known as in vitro. The second technique is to remove a sample of healthy ovarian tissue prior to the procedure. This tissue can be supplanted later on and used to stimulate the production and release of further eggs, which can help to increase fertility.

In general, these methods are used primarily by women who are older or who are already approaching menopause, as they are most at risk for loss of fertility as a result of chemotherapy. However, some types of cancer and chemotherapy treatments may be more likely to cause damage to younger women as well. It's important to speak with a fertility specialist for the best recommendations for you before you begin a chemotherapy treatment.

Updated August 2014

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