Parenting after cancer step by step

Can't get pregnant after cancer treatment? See what the specialists say.

Cancer treatment is a huge stress for the whole body. Aggressive therapies aim to save patients’ lives and often cause many side effects. Unfortunately, they also affect fertility. Many young people recover and want to have offspring. The path to parenthood is straightforward, so it’s worth knowing what to pay attention to when there are difficulties in getting pregnant after cancer treatment.

Why is it difficult to get pregnant after cancer?

Reduced fertility and problems getting pregnant for patients who have beaten cancer can be caused by various factors related to treatment, such as

  • Side effects of therapy:

Some forms of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can affect egg cells, semen, the uterine lining, and other structures related to reproduction.

  • Hormonal changes:

After aggressive therapy, the body’s hormonal balance may be disturbed, which can affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation.

  • Complications after procedures:

Surgical operations, especially in the pelvic area, can lead to changes in the structure of reproductive organs, cause adhesions or damage, such as to the ovaries and decrease ovarian reserve.

  • Age and associated fertility decline:

Cancer treatment takes time, and as the patient’s age increases, their fertility decreases. Additionally, some forms of cancer therapy can accelerate the aging process.

Important fertility preservation before cancer treatment

Given all the risks associated with loss or reduction of fertility resulting from cancer treatment, it is very important for patients – even before therapy – to use procedures that allow for the possibility of having children after recovery.

Fertility preservation in women:

  • Egg retrieval and freezing: this is a relatively safe and simple procedure. A woman takes drugs that stimulate the ovaries to produce cells, which are then collected during a procedure and subjected to cryopreservation. After recovery, they can be fertilized as part of the in vitro process, and the patient can become pregnant.
  • Ovarian tissue retrieval and freezing: this is a surgical procedure during which fragments of the ovary containing egg cell precursors are collected. The material is properly secured and frozen. When the patient recovers, the ovarian tissue is reimplanted into the body. Importantly, it is then possible both to retrieve egg cells and restore hormonal functions.
  • Creation and freezing of embryos: the procedure is recommended for people in stable relationships who plan to expand their family in the future. It involves conducting an in vitro procedure. Embryos obtained by fertilizing a patient’s egg cells with her husband/partner’s sperm are frozen and can be given to a woman when she plans to become pregnant.

Fertility preservation in men:

  • Semen freezing: is the most common and simplest form of preserving reproductive function in oncologic patients. It requires the patient to provide semen and subject it to cryopreservation. When the man recovers, his semen can be used to fertilize his partner during insemination or in vitro.

No pregnancy after cancer treatment – when to see a specialist?

If a patient encounters difficulties in getting pregnant after cancer treatment, it is important that they consult an appropriate specialist. It is worth seeking advice from a doctor who specializes in gynecological endocrinology and reproduction. It is best to look for a specialist who already has experience in helping people after cancer. You can also go to an infertility treatment clinic – most centers provide care for patients who have undergone cancer treatment.

There is no single answer to the question of when to consult a specialist. It’s worth doing after a few months of fruitless attempts. This especially applies to people who are over 35 years old, have a family history of infertility, or have previously experienced difficulties conceiving a child.

The doctor will order the necessary tests. Most often, the first step is to assess ovarian reserve in women (based on AMH results and ultrasound) and semen parameters in men. It is important to diagnose both partners – the reasons for not becoming pregnant can be complex. Based on the results, the doctor will assess the situation to identify the causes of difficulties in getting pregnant and present available treatment or support options. Early consultation can help manage procedures appropriately and increase the chances of having offspring.

It’s important to remember that cancer does not negate the chances of becoming a parent. First – it’s worth preserving fertility before oncological therapy. Second – after recovery, go to an appropriate specialist to address any potential problems and quickly get pregnant. Many people who have recovered then fulfill their dreams of having a family.