Can I Still Have Kids? 4 Facts Girls Should Know About Fertility After Cancer

Infertility is a problem that definitely can arise for female cancer survivors, although some don’t have any trouble with it. It depends on many different factors, such as the type of cancer, type of treatment given, and the patient’s genetic background.

Depending on the circumstances, a girl’s future fertility might or might not be discussed when she’s getting treatment for childhood cancer.

But as the saying goes, knowledge is power. So, if you haven’t talked with your daughter’s physician about it yet, it’s a good idea to have that conversation down the road.

Here are 4 facts about fertility after cancer for young adult and teen cancer patients and survivors.

1. Fertility After Cancer Is Linked To The Treatment A Girl Receives.

Certain chemotherapy agents can increase the risk of infertility. Any radiation to the abdomen and pelvis also could potentially impact a girl’s fertility.

In some cases, radiation near the brain can also raise the risk of infertility. This is because the pituitary gland, which is located in the brain, regulates hormones that a girl’s body needs in order for her ovaries to function properly, explains CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.

Some treatments can cause ovarian failure, which occurs when a young woman’s ovaries don’t produce eggs or hormones needed for reproduction, says CureSearch.

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All three of these issues can lead to infertility. Follow-up visits with a physician who has experience with late effects of childhood cancer treatment are important, CureSearch adds.

2. Sometimes, Genetics Play A Role In A Girl’s Fertility.

If infertility runs in your family, it will be even more important for her to consult a reproductive specialist if she ever wants to conceive a child.

Researchers believe genetic issues might be responsible for up to 50% of all infertility cases in the United States, the National Human Genome Research Institute reports. Some cases might be connected to a specific gene mutation that affects the formation of sperm and egg cells, the institute says.

3. Late Effects Of Cancer Treatment Might Increase Certain Risks During Pregnancy.

For instance, if a girl has kidney or heart problems because of the cancer, those might impact pregnancy. Also, chemo or radiation can damage the heart muscle. The most common late effect we see with the heart is that it doesn’t pump as well as it should.

During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases, which can make heart problems worse. So, it’s important for the obstetrician to know about that before or during pregnancy.

The same thing essentially is true with any other organ or body part that isn’t working normally because of treatment. That’s why having those open conversations with your medical team about fertility and reproduction is so important.

4. There Are Ways To Preserve A Girl’s Fertility.

Depending on the type of cancer and treatment—as well as whether your daughter has entered puberty—there might be several ways to preserve her future fertility, explains the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

For example, if a girl is going to receive radiation to her abdomen, her medical team might be able to surgically move her ovaries away from the area that is going to be impacted in order to protect them, says the ASCO.

Another option is egg freezing, which is possible for girls who have already entered puberty. Just like its name implies, this procedure involves removing eggs from her ovaries and freezing them for future fertility treatment.

Removing and freezing ovarian tissue rather than the eggs themselves is a third option, the ASCO says. The tissue is transplanted back into the patient after cancer treatment is finished.

While this procedure is still somewhat experimental and not yet widely available, it might soon be a good option for girls who have not yet undergone puberty, the ASCO explains.

Regardless of your daughter’s age, it’s worth discussing any available fertility preservation procedures with her medical team. She might not know yet whether she wants to have children in the future, but fertility preservation can give her the option to make that decision further down the road.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jill Beck
I've been an oncologist since 2010. With pediatric oncology, you get continuity of care with families—so you care for children when they're really sick and see them get better.

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