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Cancer treatment and fertility: Acting now to have children later

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(Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock)

With over 75 percent of children diagnosed with cancer surviving into adulthood, more and more parents ask questions about the quality of life survivors can expect in the future, including: Will my child be able to have children down the road?

They’re right to be concerned. The therapies that are so effective at saving children’s lives can themselves cause a host of problems that don’t manifest until years later. These late effects of cancer treatment include particularly harsh impacts on fertility.

“Cancer treatment impairs ovarian function by reducing the number of eggs in them,” says Elizabeth Ginsburg, MD, a fertility specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with Lisa Diller, MD, the chief medical officer of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “It’s as though it pushes the ovaries further down the age curve. So while a woman who has survived childhood cancer may be 20 years old, her ovaries act like they’re 35 or 40.”

Boys are not exempt from these concerns. “Boys are at the same relative risk for infertility due to treatment,” says Richard Yu, MD, PhD, who works on male infertility in the Boston Children’s Department of Urology. “The same chemotherapy and radiation treatments that affect the ovaries can also wipe out the sperm stem cells in the testes.” …Read More

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