For young adults with cancer, facing decisions about treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be overwhelming. Adding to that burden is the fact that the same treatments helping to extend survival may come with the trade-off of not being able to bear children in the future. This can occur for both men and women receiving cancer treatment.
For men, some treatments cause damage to the testes and/or interfere with sperm production. For women, some treatments can result in premature ovarian failure, early menopause, genetic damage to egg cells or difficulties maintaining a pregnancy. Not all cancer treatments will affect fertility and every person’s situation is different. Some of the factors include:
- the type of cancer
- which standard therapies are recommended
- the location and stage of the cancer
- the type and dose of chemotherapy
- the dose and location of radiation therapy
Fertility issues can also arise for young patients who have not had a cancer diagnosis, but are at high risk based on a known hereditary cancer syndrome within the family, such as:
- Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations)
- Lynch syndrome (high risk for cancers of the reproductive organs)
Patients face options such as preventive removal of the ovaries and uterus before cancer develops. Patients may also have the option of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD uses advanced reproductive technology and in-vitro fertilization to prevent passing a genetic risk factor on to future children.
For patients diagnosed with cancer, as well as patients considering preventive surgery, it is important to know there may be ways to preserve fertility. These options should be discussed with your doctors as early in your treatment planning as possible. The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Fertility Preservation Program is a resource for patients to learn more about these issues and options.