While having a baby after cancer is generally considered to be safe, there are special circumstances that can make it necessary for some couples to plan their pregnancies in advance. Along with other, more typical factors that can frustrate your attempts to become pregnant, common cancer treatments such as partial or total removal of the cervix, radiation therapy to the entire abdomen, radiation therapy for the testicles or uterus, and anthracycline chemotherapy can all play roles in determining how difficult conception and childbirth will ultimately be. Just what role those effects will play may depend on the age of the patient, but even if the treatments don’t cause permanent damage, it can still take years to fully recover. Fortunately, if you want to make sure you can still have a baby after cancer regardless of how the treatment affects you, modern technology has ensured that there are some excellent options that you can pursue in order to improve your chances of success.
The Mandatory Waiting Period – Although there are no firmly established guidelines for exactly how long you should wait after your last cancer treatment to have a baby, it is usually recommended that women wait at least six months. During this time, any eggs that have been negatively affected by the cancer treatment are likely to leave the body. For both men and women, however, it is believed best to wait between two and five years before attempting to conceive. While there is no denying that this can be a heartbreakingly long time to parents eager to have a child, this broad estimate—starting from the time that all of the required treatments are received by the patient to the time when the patient tries to have a child—reflects just how difficult it can be for doctors to reliably assess the likelihood of the cancer recurring as well as for the patient to recover his or her previous reproductive virility.
Getting Started – After a rough battle with any chronic illness, and especially after experiencing the terror of learning you have cancer, few things can be more uplifting than the anticipation and joy of childbirth. Yet, there are two risks that a woman should consider prior to conceiving: 1) what is her risk of cancer recurrence and 2) what is the risk of pregnancy increasing the chances of the cancer coming back? The latter is especially important for women who have hormonally driven cancers or cancers that require prolonged oral therapy. Fortunately, there are several options that will help any woman who has had cancer—even ones with the aforementioned risks—achieve the joy of parenthood.
A cryobank is often the ideal solution for couples who are eager to get started on building their families right away. Both short and long-term embryo storage is available through cryobanks, as are egg and sperm banking services. Since the deposited sperm or eggs remain unaffected by the cancer treatments, aspiring parents can plan in advance for their pregnancies, whether choosing to wait until a full five years have passed or to proceed immediately after treatment.
When sperm and eggs are collected prior to treatments, there is no fear of having them being negatively impacted. Ideally, when the sperm and eggs are collected prior to treatment, they would be collected as embryos versus as separate eggs and sperm. The reason this is ideal is because frozen embryos have a 15% to 30% improved chance of resulting in a healthy birth than that of frozen eggs or frozen sperm. If it is possible for couples to freeze embryos, then it is highly recommended that they do so instead of just banking frozen eggs and sperm. This extends even to women who may still be single prior to treatment, but know they want children in the future that are biologically theirs. They can freeze their eggs or even freeze embryos using a donor’s sperm for the future.
While many couples will be able to conceive after freezing their embryos, not every couple is as fortunate. Yet, there are still options for them. Couples who find that they cannot conceive after going through cancer treatment can seek out a surrogate to carry their child for them. It is important to note that couples seeking a surrogate should do careful research into the laws of surrogacy and the associated costs, which can be significant. Usually the couple is expected to cover the medical, legal and other reasonable expenses for the surrogate, which might include monetary compensation. It is recommended to pursue surrogacy through either an agency or through a lawyer to help the biological parents know their rights and keep the process as smooth as possible.
Risk of the Child Having Cancer – Currently there is no evidence suggesting that a cancer diagnosis in the parent increases your child’s risk of getting cancer. The only time this should be a worry is if your cancer is genetically linked. If it is, then it is strongly recommended you meet with your doctor or a genetic counsellor to better understand your risk of passing those specific genes to your child. Yet even in these situations, there are still options. For example, if you use in vitro fertilisation as your avenue to pregnancy, then you can screen your embryos for the cancer-causing gene to make sure you will not pass it on.
When the unexpected occurs in life, people often have no choice but to make the best of what they are dealing with. Looking ahead to the creation of a healthy family unit is often a great way to promote positive emotions during a trying time. Fertility preservation can eliminate fears and reservations concerning some of the latest and more aggressive treatments, thereby supplying cancer patients with lasting peace of mind. Of all the many uncertainties that cancer survivors must wrestle with, the fear of not being able to produce or bear children should not be one of them.