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Pregnancy after cancer treatment
For some people, life after cancer includes plans to have a baby. Before starting cancer treatments, you should have a conversation with your healthcare team about your plans. This way your treatment can be planned so it will have a smaller risk on your ability to have children.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare team about becoming pregnant after cancer treatment. In advising you on when and if it is safe to try to have a baby after cancer treatment, your healthcare team usually consider these factors:
- the type and stage of cancer
- the chances of the cancer coming back
- Since some cancers do recur, people are usually advised to wait a few years after finishing cancer treatment until the risk of recurrence has decreased.
- the type of cancer treatment you received
- the prognosisprognosis1. The expected outcome or course of a disease. 2. The chance of recovery or recurrence.
- your age and wishes
- other social aspects
Cancer treatments should be finished for a period of time before you try to have a child. Women should wait at least 6 months to allow any eggs that were damaged by treatment to leave the body. Men may have to wait up to 2 years after treatment for sperm to repair itself. In some cases, the healthcare team may recommend waiting 2 to 5 years, as most cancers recur in that time.
Concerns about infertility
Unfortunately, cancer treatments can cause fertility problems and you may have trouble conceiving, at least for a period of time. Radiation therapy can affect fertility for men and women. Chemotherapy can cause reproductive organ damage. Hormonal therapy can also cause fertility problems. There are many fertility options for people who wish to become pregnant after treatment, although some people may find it very difficult or impossible to have children after treatment.
As much as you may want a baby, it’s normal to worry that being pregnant may make your cancer come back. Current research suggests that pregnancy after cancer does not cause recurrence, even after breast cancer.
As a cancer survivor, it’s normal to worry that you will pass a cancer gene to your children or that they will have an increased risk of cancer. Only a very small percentage of cancers are inherited, so in most cases, your child’s risk of developing cancer appears to be the same as that of the general public. If you had a genetically linked cancer, talk to your doctor about your concerns and ask about genetic counselling.
You may worry that your treatment may cause birth defects or health problems for your future child. If you’ve waited for the suggested period of time to become healthy after your cancer treatment has ended, your child doesn’t have a higher risk of birth defects or other health problems. Problems are more likely if a baby is conceived during or too soon after treatment.
You may have questions about having a normal pregnancy. For many women, pregnancy after cancer treatment has few problems. In some women, pregnancy may be more complicated or difficult because of cancer treatment side effects, and they may be referred to a specialist in high-risk pregnancies.
Thanks to the incredible progress in retinoblastoma research made possible by Canadian Cancer Society funding, my son won’t have to go through what I did.
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The Canadian Cancer Society is funding lifesaving clinical trials that give people with cancer access to the newest types of treatment.