In July of 2017 researchers for the first time, completed a scientific study of a large, population-sized group to quantify the effects of cancer treatment on fertility, specifically its effect on the likelihood of women achieving pregnancy post-treatment. The study tracked cancer diagnoses and female patients of reproductive age in Scotland between 1981 and 2012. The results were staggering, revealing that women who had undergone cancer treatment are 38% less likely to achieve pregnancy than those within the general population who had not undergone such treatment. Achieving first pregnancies following cancer treatment were even less likely, with studies revealing 50% fewer in the study group compared to the control group of women. These results were similar when compared across all types of cancer diagnoses within the tracked group of women. The only variations were slightly higher instances of detrimental effects on pregnancy in women who had undergone treatment for cancers including breast cancer, cervical cancer, and leukemia.
Why Does Cancer Treatment Affect Fertility?
These detrimental effects of cancer treatment on fertility occur for several known reasons. Certain chemotherapy treatments damage female fertility by harming the ovaries and ovarian tissue. This damage can occur at any age, in prepubescent girls and in women of reproductive age. In addition to chemotherapy treatment, radiotherapy (or radiation therapy) can also impair the reproductive organs by harming the ovaries, ovarian tissue, and the uterus. In addition, radiation therapy is also believed to potentially cause damage to the portions of the brain which control the reproductive organs and hormone function, which can have a negative impact on achieving future pregnancy. Throughout the years, however, these cancer treatments have improved and become more precise. Case studies of women diagnosed and treated later in the study years were more likely to achieve pregnancy than those diagnosed during the earlier years of the study.
Few Cancer Patients Seek Oncofertility Counseling or Treatment
Unfortunately, many cancer patients of a reproductive age, both male and female, do not receive proper or thorough oncofertility treatment throughout the cancer diagnosis and treatment process. Although treatment providers are largely aware of the threat which cancer treatment poses to the reproductive system, many flaws within the medical care process prevent adequate fertility support to patients through patient education, counseling, referrals, and proper fertility preservation.
An oncologists tends to become a cancer patient’s primary care physician, but tend to be completely focused on cancer treatment, not focusing on the patient outcome after survival. Not fully knowledgeable regarding fertility treatment or perhaps unaware of whose responsibility or role it is to provide fertility counseling to a patient, an oncologist might overlook fertility discussions and referrals when discussing cancer treatment with patients of reproductive age.
These detrimental effects of cancer treatment on fertility can lead to long-term anxiety and a reduced quality of life for cancer survivors of a reproductive age who did not receive proper counseling or treatment with regard to preserving their fertility during cancer treatment. With improving treatments, advancing science, and cancer survival rates increasing each year, the number of individuals affected by the reproductive side effects of cancer treatment is also on the rise. For this reason, providing proper oncofertility treatment and fertility counseling to current and past cancer patients has become increasingly important, as the negative impact on fertility stands to affect a greater portion of the population.
Seek Dedicated, Professional Emotional and Medical Support at Diagnosis
If you are of reproductive age and have received a cancer diagnosis, male or female, be sure to speak with your oncologist or a Viera Fertility Center doctor about proper oncofertility treatment and the counseling services which are available to help you through this time when you will face many difficult decisions. Scientific progress has made the successful preservation of reproduction in cancer patients a reality.
If you have already undergone cancer treatment and are trying to achieve pregnancy, we still encourage you to contact our doctor for the medical and emotional support you need during this time. With advances in fertility treatment, our dedicated professionals can provide you, pre-treatment or post-treatment, with your best chance at achieving pregnancy and improving your quality of life.