Though it’s true that women who survive cancer in childhood can struggle with infertility issues, it’s been found that the infertility isn’t permanent, and in many cases women will eventually become pregnant and give birth to full-term healthy babies. The process just takes a little longer than normal.
According to clinical researchers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital, nearly two-thirds of women who have hadchildhood cancer and are considered to be infertile have eventually conceived. The clinical definition of infertility is attempting to become pregnant for a year or more without success.
The research for this study was published on July 13th in Lancet Oncology and if the first major study of fertility for women who have survived childhood cancer. In the study, about 15.9% of female childhood cancer survivors are affected by infertility with around 12.9% who have tried to become pregnant for a year or more without success. The control group was made up of sisters of women who experienced childhood cancer and in that group 10.8% had fertility issues. This means that women with childhood cancer experience are about 50% more likely to be infertile or have fertility issues.
Though this may not sound positive at all, remember the definition of fertility and the statistics about cancer survivors eventually conceiving. Though it might look bleak, infertility because of childhood cancer doesn’t doom you to be childless, it might just take some time and effort to become pregnant. A second study was conducted to specifically examine how long it took women with childhood cancer to become pregnant compared to the first study that only examined infertility.
It was found that among survivors of childhood cancer who had been trying without success to become pregnant for at least a year, 64% conceived after about another six months. This is compared with a typical average of five months for clinically infertile women who eventually conceived who were used in the control group for the second study.
Previous studies also confirm that women with a past history of childhood cancer have an increased risk of infertility, though they are not at risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Dr. Lisa Diller, the lead author for the study concluded saying "what we found delivers a really nice message to clinicians. If you have a patient who is a childhood cancer survivor and is self-reporting clinical infertility, the chances are good that she will become pregnant. Women who have a history of childhood cancer treatment should consider themselves likely to be fertile. However, it might be important to see an expert sooner rather than later if a desired pregnancy doesn't happen within the first six months."
- Sara E Barton, et. al. Infertility, infertility treatment, and achievement of pregnancy in female survivors of childhood cancer: a report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study cohort. The Lancet Oncology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70251-1
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (2013, July 13). Strong pregnancy outcomes for survivors of childhood cancer. ScienceDaily.