Most cancer treatments can affect fertility. It can hinder conception temporarily. Or, it can damage a woman’s eggs so badly that conception is no longer an option. A woman who goes through chemotherapy needs to be mindful of her options.
Chemotherapy, also known as chemo, is a type of treatment that includes medicine or a combination of medications to treat cancer. The purpose of chemo is to halt or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemo is considered a systemic therapy, which means the drugs spread throughout the body to treat cancer cells. This means it may affect your entire body, not just the bloodstream where the needles are administered. Chemotherapy rapidly attacks growing cancer cells, but can also affect healthy cells in the reproductive system.1
Fertility problems from cancer treatment occur in two main ways:
- Damage to organs in the reproductive system, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, or cervix
- Damage to organs involved in hormone production, such as the ovaries2
Ask your doctor about your fertility success rate before treatment. Talk to your gynecologist about how you can preserve your fertility. More on this later.
Infertility is a condition of the reproductive system that prevents the conception of a child. It affects approximately 10-15% of couples throughout the United States. The diagnosis of infertility is usually given to couples who’ve been trying to conceive for at least one year without success.3 (Parents of children with cancer should consider this, too. These special concerns are addressed in Preserving Fertility in Girls and Teens with Cancer. )4
There are so many factors involved in being able to conceive and carry a baby full term. Trying to conceive too soon after chemo isn’t advised. Chemotherapy is so fierce of a drug, that it’s advised to wait six months to three years before even trying. The reproductive system needs time to normalize.
Preserving Your Fertility
Most cancer survivors can still choose to become parents if they wish. This is a breath of fresh
air. It might not happen the way you had planned before cancer, but if you can be flexible, you’ll find that you certainly have options. Lots of them. They include freezing eggs, embryos, or pieces of your ovary. There’s also In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), adoption, using a donated egg or embryo to have a child (sometimes with the help of another woman to carry the pregnancy). Yes, there are many avenues to consider. Explore your options and see what feels right to you. Here are three options:
Freezing embryos You have fertility drugs to stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs. Doctors can then collect (harvest) the eggs and use your partner’s sperm to fertilise them in a laboratory, creating embryos. They then freeze the embryos until you want to have a baby, when the embryo is returned to your womb to grow there. This is called in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
It’s quite a complicated process and it doesn’t always succeed. It is important to understand that the embryos are the joint property of you and your partner. Both of you will need to agree to use them later.
Freezing eggs You may not have a partner at the moment. You can have just your eggs frozen until you’re ready to have a baby.
The process is very similar to IVF. You have drugs to stimulate your ovaries to make eggs. Doctors then collect and freeze them until you are ready for them to be fertilised.
Freezing ovarian tissue Researchers are looking into removing ovarian tissue and freezing it before chemotherapy starts. The idea is to put the ovarian tissue back after treatment ends.
If the ovarian tissue then starts working normally, the ovaries may produce eggs and so you remain fertile.
At the moment there are only a few centres in the UK offering this service. Talk to your doctor if you want to know more about this.5
Alternative Ways to Conceive
Hypnotherapy Infertile women using mind/body techniques such as hypnosis or hypnotherapy
have a 42%-55% conception rate compared to 20% with in vitro fertilisation alone.
Hypnosis based on imagery and a relaxed state of mind were successful in facilitating pregnancy. The treatment was considered to be based upon attitude, optimism and mind-body connections.
Research has shown that hypnosis for fertility doubles the success of IVF treatment. Researchers in Soroka University in Israel found that 28% of women in a group that were hypnotised became pregnant compared to 14% of those who were not hypnotised.
Research has shown that fertility can be affected by mind-body therapies such as hypnosis. Dr. Ernest Rossi specialises in psychobiology, the relationship between mind and psychical body states. He has done extensive research which suggest that human genes must be in a state of readiness for conception to take place, and that hypnotic type suggestions can activate specific genes. Dee Ballington , Certified Hypnotherapist can help you conceive with ease.7
In an 8-week study, patients who had previously had breast cancer visualized less stress and a better quality of life. This 2008 study, which was published in the Journal for the Society of Integrative Oncology, found that these patient’s cortisol rhythm was in fact reduced. Cortisol rhythm indicates the probability of the recurrence of cancer, and so the likelihood of the cancer returning was reduced.
Visualization can help conception. The secret to getting what you want is to imagine that you already have it. Feel it, smell it, taste it, believe it in every cell of your body. And in every egg. Read this story about a woman’s fertility journey using visualization techniques. It’ll give you hope of how the mind directs the body. Hope it makes you smile.
For many women, becoming pregnant is one of life’s greatest joys. There are many roads to conception. If you’re trying to conceive after chemotherapy, seek the support you need before and after treatment. There are many professionals who can help. Believe you can conceive and it may happen for you. Anything is possible.
Chemotherapy.com. What is Chemotherapy?
Cancer.net. Fertility Concerns and Preservation for Women.
American Pregnancy Association. What is Infertility?
American Cancer Society. How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Women.
Cancer Research UK. Ways to Keep Your Fertility.
Fertility and Sterility. Impact of Hypnosis During Embryo Transfer on the Outcome of In Vitro Fertilization–Embryo Transfer: A Case-Control Study
TheFertileBody.com. Research showing the benefits of hypnotherapy for Fertility problems by Ruth Allen.