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Cancer treatment and female fertility: Everything you need to know

Cancer treatments are important for improving one’s quality of life, but they may take a toll on the reproductive organs and affect fertility, experts say

cancer affecting pregnancy“Chemotherapy impacts the ovaries, and they can stop releasing eggs or estrogen and this can be known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI),” said Dr Prashant Mullerpatan, MS, FRCS Consultant Oncosurgeon, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Infertility is the inability to achieve pregnancy. While there are many factors that determine female fertility, cancer treatment can also damage the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix that are involved in reproduction, say experts.

That is because a woman diagnosed with cancer will have to either take chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, surgery, or a transplant.

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“These treatments can affect a female’s reproductive system; the changes to fertility, however, can be temporary or permanent. One will have to speak to a fertility consultant before undergoing cancer treatment and opt for egg freezing that can help a women become pregnant in the future, if recommended,” Dr Prashant Mullerpatan MS, FRCS Consultant Oncosurgeon, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai said.

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“Cancer strikes when cells divide and multiply much faster than most normal cells. The treatments — chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery — can have many side-effects and tend to increase the risk of or cause infertility,” he said.

“Chemotherapy impacts the ovaries, and they can stop releasing eggs or estrogen, a condition known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). This condition, in many cases, is for a short period of time and one’s menstruation regularises and fertility may be restored after the treatment,” mentioned Dr Mullerpatan.

cancer “Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can have many side-effects and tend to increase the risk of or cause infertility,” said Dr Prashant Mullerpatan. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

“But, in many cases, the damage to the ovaries is irreversible, leading to infertility on a permanent basis. So, a woman can exhibit symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, vaginal dryness, and irregular or no menstrual periods. The healthy eggs can get depleted in the ovaries due to chemotherapy,” he added.

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According to Dr Richa Jagtap, clinical director and consultant reproductive medicine, NOVA IVF Fertility, Mumbai, women are born with an infinite number of eggs, but when the eggs are lost, they cannot be replaced and there can be infertility and early menopause.

cancer treatment pregnancy “Your ability to conceive will also depend on your age, the location of the tumour, and the kind of treatment you have been advised,” said Dr Richa Jagtap. (Source- Getty Images/Thinkstock)

“As such, becoming pregnant after cancer treatment, poses a challenge. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy, especially, work to deplete the growing cells in the body. Unfortunately, this impacts the eggs and sperms also. Eggs are impacted more severely as the number of eggs is finite. Once lost, the eggs cannot be regenerated. Post cancer therapy, a woman should have normal menses, AMH (Anti-Müllerian hormone) levels of acceptable range, at least one healthy ovary, a healthy uterus and one healthy Fallopian tube,” said Dr Jagtap.

Sharing the example of a cervical cancer patient who froze her embryos before treatment to remove her uterus and then planned further radiotherapy, Dr Jagtap said, “We have had 7-8 patients who came with diagnosis of some form of cancer. Some of them could act timely and preserve their fertility, and embrace motherhood whenever ready. Others were either in age range that outcomes were expected be poor or were unable to afford the treatment. Most of these patients were in age group of 30-44 years.”

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“Your ability to conceive will also depend on your age, the location of the tumour, and the kind of treatment you have been advised,” she added.

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First published on: 09-03-2022 at 03:50:32 pm
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