Chemotherapy and Getting Pregnant – How Cancer and its Treatment Affects Fertility

Being diagnosed with cancer at any age is devastating. But for women who still hope to have children in the future, there are additional concerns. You may be worried about surviving to have children, but even with early-stage, treatable types of cancer, the treatments can impact fertility. Lately, many cases have gone to court over ovarian cancer and asbestos in talcum powder. There are specific types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, that impact fertility; but also treatments for any type of cancer can affect your ability to get pregnant.

Asbestos and Cancer in Women

Ovarian cancer is particularly harmful to fertility because it may necessitate the removal of the ovaries or radiation therapy, which can damage eggs. There have been many recent lawsuits against manufacturers of talcum powder from women who developed ovarian cancer or even mesothelioma after using the products for years.

Studies of women in these cases have found talc particles in the ovarian tumors, indicating that the powder may play a role in the development of the cancer. Other studies have actually found asbestos contamination in talcum powder products. This may explain how women have developed ovarian cancer or mesothelioma from using them.

Chemotherapy and Cancer

Chemotherapy to treat any type of cancer can be damaging to fertility. Many types of cancer are treated primarily with chemotherapy. Often patients will get a mix of therapies or may benefit most from surgery, but many need to have chemotherapy to eat cancer.

Although it successfully manages many types of cancer and can even lead to remission, chemotherapy is a harsh treatment with a lot of side effects. It involves the intravenous administration of drugs that are toxic to any fast-growing cells. The drugs circulate the body and kill cancer cells but also other healthy cells. This is why chemotherapy causes so many side effects, like nausea and hair loss.

The Impact on Fertility in Women

Chemotherapy drugs in general attack and destroy eggs in a woman’s ovaries. Because the drugs are non-selective and go after any fast growing cells, the eggs are vulnerable. The drugs that are known to cause the most damage to eggs are busulfan, carboplatin, carmustine, chlorambucil, cisplatin, cyclophosphamide, dacarbazine, doxorubicin, ifosfamide, lomustine, mechlorethamine, melphalan, procarbazine, and temozolomide.

Whether or not any individual woman will retain fertility after going through chemotherapy depends on several factors: her age and overall health, the type of chemotherapy drugs used, and the doses and number of cycles needed.

One type of chemotherapy has been shown to largely preserve fertility in women, but it is for a specific type of cancer. Called peritoneal mesothelioma, this asbestos-related cancer affects the abdomen. Women with this type can undergo a type of chemotherapy that involves circulating the drugs through the abdomen instead of intravenously. Studies have found that women undergoing this treatment generally remain fertile.

Preserving Fertility and Fighting Cancer

The good news is that you can take steps to get chemotherapy and fight cancer while also preserving the ability to have children in the future. All women of child-bearing age or younger should have this discussion with their doctors before undergoing any treatment for cancer.

Before chemotherapy a woman can have her eggs removed and frozen. If she loses fertility during treatment, these eggs can be fertilized later and implanted in her uterus, if possible, or in a woman acting as a surrogate.

If you are considering this option to preserve the ability to have a child, know that it could delay your cancer treatment. The ovaries will need to be stimulated to successfully retrieve eggs, and that can mean having to wait on chemotherapy for a week or two.

Undergoing chemotherapy is often necessary in the treatment of cancer. For many types of cancer it is the most effective method of treatment and may even be the only hope for remission. Women who may want to have children in the future need to understand the risks to fertility and what steps they need to take to ensure they can have a child. If you are in this situation, talk to your doctor before agreeing to any treatment plan.

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