Fertility and Cancer: 5 Things to Think About

August 1, 2017
Aditi Narayan, MSSW

Aditi Narayan is a social worker and Program Manager for Research and Evaluation at LIVESTRONG. She oversees operations and evaluation of a community-based navigation program and the LIVESTRONG Foundation's survivorship research. Her research focus includes streamlining survivors’ and caregivers' access to supportive cancer care through technology and collaborations with community organizations. 

Cancer and its treatment can affect a man’s or woman’s ability to have children, or fertility. If you are worried about whether cancer will affect your fertility, here are some steps you can take today to help increase your chances of having a family in the future. share on twitter

1. Learn about your risk of infertility

If you are diagnosed with cancer and having children in the future is important to you, talk with your health care team before cancer treatment starts. You will need to learn whether your recommended treatment options could impact your fertility. Your health care team can also help you find information and other resources to help you preserve your ability to have children.

It can be helpful to prepare for the discussion first by reading about cancer-related fertility risks and about what questions to ask your doctor. You can also access information to learn about potential risks by cancer types and treatments and to learn about ways to have a family in the future (see More Information at the bottom of this post for information on all of these topics.)

2. Consult a fertility specialist

If your fertility may be affected by cancer or its treatment, or if you are uncertain about your risks, ask to be referred to a fertility specialist. This health care specialist can talk with you about your risks and options in more detail. Parenthood options include donated or frozen eggs, embryos, or sperm; surrogacy; and adoption.

3. Explore fertility preservation options

Fertility preservation is often possible for men and women who will undergo cancer treatment. It is very important to discuss fertility preservation as early as possible, preferably before treatment starts. Having this conversation early in the process gives you access to a larger range of options, including egg and embryo freezing or sperm banking. However, it is never too late for patients to explore their options.

4. Find financial support

You may worry that your insurance will not pay for fertility preservation procedures. Unfortunately, coverage can be limited. Some fertility preservation methods, like ovarian shielding or radiation shielding of gonads, may be covered if they are considered part of radiation treatment. Talk with your insurance company to find out more about your specific policy’s terms.

If you need financial assistance, there are organizations that can help. For instance, LIVESTRONG Fertility provides discounted rates for sperm banking and egg and embryo freezing in partnership with more than 650 fertility clinics across the United States. The program also provides free stimulation medication for women who wish to preserve fertility before or after treatment.

5. Get the emotional support you need

The emotional toll of cancer can be even more challenging when your fertility may be affected by the very medications and procedures that are meant to save you. It is important to know that you are not alone and that it is normal to feel a mix of emotions. Surround yourself with a strong support system as you decide on your best course of action, with open communication among your family and friends, support groups, counselors, and health care team.