31 October 2019

Life After Cancer Treatment

Medical Director
Cesar Diaz-Garcia
MD PhD Assoc Prof
IVI London

 

2019 #BreastCancerAwareness month has been another successful month for creating awareness of the disease and an opportunity to hear the amazing stories of those women who have won the battle. But what happens to those women afterwards, can they go on and lead a normal life? Or has their life plan had to change? A lot of women who have gone through the cancer treatment have been faced with making life changing decisions which they may not have wanted to make if the situation was to be different. For example, do I want children?

Women of a fertile age make up only 7% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, within this 7% some women might not have even thought about whether they want to be a mother or not. However, due to the development of science, this is now a decision women can take into their own hands. Fertility preservation before cancer treatment means you now have a choice.

The effect cancer has on your fertility can depend on the type of treatment you go through for example; chemotherapy might cause damage to your ovaries which can sometimes cause fertility issues. Women who get relatively high overall doses of chemotherapy may be more likely to be infertile after treatment than women on lower-dose. Despite this, many women still go on to become pregnant once their cancer has been cured. Others go on to use their own eggs (that they previously froze). With either method doctors advise survivors to wait at least 2 years after treatment before trying to get pregnant. It is thought this time is long enough to detect any sign of the cancer returning. Keep in mind that every woman is different. Some breast cancer can come back after the 2-year mark so your decision to get pregnant should not be based on this alone. The normal factors women are faced with still stand, for example your age, how many babies you desire to have, etc.

If you are planning on getting pregnant after treatment your doctor will be able to discuss your fertility with you. During this appointment several things will be carried out to measure your fertility. For example, an AMH blood test, which measures your ovarian reserve and an ultrasound scan of your ovaries may be done. Your doctor will also be looking for signs of early menopause, which is one of the side effects that could occur after cancer treatment. However, in some cases early menopause can be temporary, with your periods returning again after your chemotherapy is over. Your period occurs when eggs are maturing, however the number of eggs available might be smaller post cancer treatment. Despite still having your period some women may still have trouble getting pregnant. This is because chemotherapy can damage the immature eggs in the ovaries.

So what if you do get pregnant? Will my previous cancer treatment affect the baby? There is no proof of a direct relationship between past cancer treatment and your baby. Researchers have seen no correlation between birth defects and the mothers’ past treatment. The sort of things you will need to consider when having a baby are elements such as breast feeding. If you have had to have reconstruction surgery post cancer you may have difficulty producing milk, so this is definitely a topic you should discuss with your doctor at your appointment.

Here at IVI

We have some of the most experienced doctors in the field of fertility, our medical director at IVI London even specialises in fertility for cancer patients. That, along with our most advanced technology, means the chances of a patient becoming pregnant after having gone through cancer treatment is forever growing.

 

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