Some cancers and cancer treatments can have a range of effects on a person’s current and fertility. The impact can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the type of treatment used, the dose and duration of treatment, and the person's age and general health. In this guide, we’ll dive into some of the facts about cancer, cancer treatments, fertility, and donor eggs.
Why some cancer survivors need donor eggs
While some cancer patients are given the opportunity to freeze their eggs before undergoing cancer treatment, too often this doesn’t happen. Sometimes the drugs required in egg freezing could promote the growth of hormone-sensitive cancers. Other times, the patient may not have enough time to complete a stim cycle before needing to start cancer treatment. And in some particularly unfortunate cases, the patient may not be not informed of their fertility preservation options.
Regardless of the reason, if a cancer survivor no longer has sufficient egg quantity or quality, turning to donor eggs is one potential path to parenthood.
How cancer treatments may affect fertility
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery are all types of cancer treatment that can potentially affect fertility. The effects of cancer treatment on fertility can vary widely from person to person. Some people may experience temporary or permanent fertility changes as a result of treatment, while others may experience no significant changes.
- Chemotherapy can cause primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), which is when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and estrogen. Sometimes POI is temporary and your menstrual periods and fertility return after treatment. However, even if normal ovulation resumes, chemotherapy can lower the number of healthy eggs.
- Some cancer surgeries, especially those addressing gynecologic cancers, include the removal of one or both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, or cervix. This can make getting pregnant and carrying a healthy pregnancy more difficult.
- Radiation therapy can also cause infertility. Patients who receive abdominal or directed pelvic radiation at high doses are at greater risk for infertility. Radiation therapy can also negatively impact the number and quality of eggs, leading to a reduced ovarian reserve.
If you are considering cancer treatment and are concerned about its potential impact on your fertility, it is important to discuss your concerns with your healthcare team. They can provide you with information about the potential effects of cancer treatment on fertility and help you understand your options for preserving your fertility before treatment begins.
Can you become pregnant after chemotherapy?
Some types of chemotherapy can temporarily or permanently damage the ovaries, which can affect a person's fertility. Chemotherapy can also cause a temporary or permanent decrease in the production of eggs, which can also affect fertility. However, the effects of chemotherapy on fertility are not uniform.
It is also important to note that fertility can be affected by other factors, such as the underlying health condition for which the chemotherapy is being used. For example, some health conditions, such as cancer, can affect fertility even without chemotherapy treatment.
Can you do IVF after cancer and chemotherapy?
It is often possible to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) after cancer treatment, including chemotherapy. However, the timing of IVF treatment may need to be adjusted based on the specific type of cancer and treatment.
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can damage the ovaries, which can affect fertility. It may take some time for the ovaries to recover after treatment, and the timing of IVF treatment may need to be adjusted accordingly.
It is also important to note that cancer treatment can affect your overall health, which can impact the IVF experience. Some people may want or need to wait until they have fully recovered from treatment before starting IVF, while others may need to modify their treatment plan to take into account any ongoing health issues.
If you are considering IVF after cancer treatment and are concerned about its potential impact on your fertility, it is important to discuss your concerns with a fertility specialist.
Using donor eggs to get pregnant after cancer
IVF using donor eggs is a fertility treatment option often considered by female cancer survivors who have experienced fertility changes as a result of cancer treatment. Because cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can damage the ovaries and affect a person's ability to produce healthy eggs, using donor eggs may be the best option for achieving pregnancy.
Donor egg IVF involves using eggs from a healthy donor to create embryos, which are then transferred to the uterus of the intended parent or a gestational carrier. This can allow cancer survivors who have experienced fertility changes as a result of treatment to have a child.
Donor egg IVF is an increasingly common fertility treatment, and an option that may be considered if other fertility treatment options are not feasible or have not been successful. Using donor eggs can greatly increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy, especially for women over 35.
Cofertility is a human-first fertility ecosystem rewriting the egg freezing and egg donation experience. Our Family by Co platform serves as a more transparent, ethical egg donor matching platform. We are obsessed with improving the family-building journey — today or in the future — and are in an endless pursuit to make these experiences more positive. Create a free account today!
Halle Tecco is a healthcare founder and investor, and women's health advocate. She previously founded Rock Health and then Natalist (acquired by Everly Health). She is a Board Director at Resolve and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School. Halle received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her MPH from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in Women’s and Reproductive Health. Education - Bachelor of Science (BS) from Case Western Reserve University - Masters of Public Health (MPH) from Johns Hopkins University - Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School Certifications & Accomplishments - Advisor at Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics since 2014 - Board Member of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association since 2022 - Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2023 - Goldman Sachs Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs - San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40 - Forbes 30 Under 30 - Business Insider 30 under 40 in Healthcare - Has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC - Has spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, CES, TechCrunch Disrupt, and was a SXSW Keynote speaker
View all articles