Fertility and Women With Cancer

Although not everyone ends up having children, most people want to at least have the option. Cancer – and treatment for cancer – can sometimes make this harder or even take this option away, or it can raise doubts about whether having children is even the right thing to do.

How cancer treatment will affect your fertility depends on the type of treatment you get. Effects also depend on other factors, such as the type of cancer, where it is, your age and overall health, and your response to treatment.

If you can, talk with your doctor, nurse, or another member of your health care team about fertility before treatment. There might be ways to save or protect your fertility before and maybe even during treatment. But after treatment, options are often more limited. (Parents of children with cancer should consider this, too. These special concerns are addressed in Preserving fertility in girls and teens with cancer.)

Women with cancer often face some fertility challenges. Some of the things that must be considered when trying to preserve fertility are:

  • Age
  • Diagnosis
  • Type of cancer treatment
  • Whether the cancer has spread to the ovaries
  • Time (some fertility procedures might take too much time when the cancer is fast-growing) 
  • Chances of success – many of the fertility procedures available are still experimental
  • Need for a male partner – some of the most effective methods in use require a partner or a sperm donor

Studies have suggested that women with cancer are less likely to be given information about preserving their fertility than men. If you’re interested in having children in the future, you might need to start this conversation with your cancer team or your doctor.

Most cancer survivors can still choose to become a parent if they wish. It might not happen the way it was expected to before cancer, but if you can be flexible, you’ll find that there are options to help.

What is infertility?

Infertility is not being able to start or maintain a pregnancy. For a woman, it means that she either can’t become pregnant or that she can’t carry a baby full-term.

Women are infertile if:

  • Their ovaries don’t make mature eggs.
  • Damage to the reproductive system keeps eggs from being fertilized.
  • A fertilized egg cannot implant and grow inside the uterus.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: November 6, 2013 Last Revised: November 6, 2013

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