The good news is that cancer treatments work. In fact, they work so well that the majority of people with cancer will survive and experience a cure for their disease. This is especially true for young cancer patients. All this great news comes with a price, though. Many young people who are treated for cancer experience infertility in the future. And not enough young cancer patients are aware of their options.
One big national study asked young cancer patients how much importance was placed on the ability to have children. 90% rated this as very important. But only 25% of cancer doctors had discussed these issues with them. This is sad, because radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery can all harm your fertility while they also save your life. And with a little planning, steps can be taken to preserve your ability to have children after cancer has been successfully treated.
Men can freeze sperm fairly inexpensively and easily, and this can be scheduled very last minute. Women can freeze eggs or fertilized eggs also called embryos. This involves fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization, but new medication protocols are safe and don’t increase the risk of cancer growth. While this option is not cheap, many programs have payment programs or compassionate care alternatives for those who have just been diagnosed with cancer. Other steps can also be taken. A doctor who is knowledgeable can discuss all risks and options and help you to navigate these unfamiliar waters.
What if you aren’t able to do anything to preserve your fertility now, because you are starting treatment tomorrow, or feel too sick or can’t afford it? What are your options? A fertility specialist can also help you assess your fertility and give you information about other family building options such as donor egg, donor sperm, or donor embryo.
In short, if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, ask to be referred to a specialist to talk about fertility preservation. Get the information, and get it before you start treatment. Don’t assume that there isn’t enough money or time to preserve your fertility. Having a child after cancer treatment is not only possible with planning, but pregnancy may actually be protective, and people who plan for their survival may actually do better with their treatment. All you need to do is ask.