Pregnancy should be avoided if undergoing chemotherapy. Several chemotherapy drugs can cause birth defects and other complications to a developing fetus. Experts say women undergoing chemotherapy treatments who want to have a baby should wait at least 6 months after finishing chemotherapy before trying to conceive. This is because the medications may damage or destroy the eggs that were maturing during treatment. Damaged or destroyed eggs can result in genetic problems and/or miscarriage.
Women typically stop menstruating when undergoing chemotherapy. After the cancer treatment ends, their periods return but their menstrual cycle and fertility may remain irregular and uncertain for an undisclosed amount of time. Cancer treatments can sometimes increase the risks of premature menopause in women of any age.
Depending on the type of drug and dosage, chemotherapy can cause damage to the eggs found within a woman’s ovaries. Alkylating drugs are most likely to cause infertility, which include such drugs as Lomustine, Methotrexate, Melphalan and Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Bone marrow and stem cell transplants typically stops a woman from releaseing eggs permanently.
The rays used in radiation treatments to kill cancer cells also can cause extensive damage to a woman’s ovaries. As the ovaries absorb some of the radiation, this can often result in destroyed egg supply and possibly premature menopause. Should the uterus be exposed to radiation, this can increase the risks associated with miscarriage, low-birth rate babies and/or premature birth. Radiation can also cause the scarring of tissues and veins, thus possibly resulting in reduced blood flow to and from the uterus. This can cause the growth and expansion of the uterus to become stunted. Additionally, radiation can lead to the brain not being to transmit signals from the pituitary gland to the ovaries to produce hormones, which can lead to diminished egg production and fertility.
Cancer-related surgeries like hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) or oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) cause women to no longer be able to bear children. In many cases, surgeons try to save one of the ovaries to preserve a woman’s eggs and fertility. Some women with cervical cancer have undergone a new surgery that removes the cervix but leaves the uterus intact, thus allowing these women to still conceive. If you have cancer, are undergoing cancer treatments or in remission, please seek the advice of a physician in regards to your fertility and how it relates to your treatments.