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Cancer Treatment and Its Effect on Male and Female Fertility

Cancer Treatment and Its Effect on Male and Female Fertility

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Cancer treatments affect both women and men in unique ways since the productive anatomy for each is so distinct. Women are born with a finite amount of eggs, while men are constantly producing new sperm. The risks associated with each major cancer treatment are outlined below.

Chemotherapy

The affect that chemotherapy has on both women and men is largely dependent on the type and dose of the drug used in treatment. Women who are treated before they are 30 have the best chance of becoming pregnant. However, women are advised not to get pregnant within the first six months after chemo. For men, it is difficult to predict those who will become infertile. Some men develop azospermia (no sperm) or oligospermia (low sperm) after treatment, but gradually recover in the months or years following. Still, it is recommended that men wait two years after therapy before fathering a child. The drugs that are most likely to result in infertility for both women and men are the alkylating drugs.

Radiation

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. These rays can also damage reproductive organs. Infertility for both women and men depend on the amount of radiation absorbed. High enough doses can destroy all the eggs in the ovaries for women and can cause permanent azospermia in men. However, men are able to protect their testes using a shielding technique, if their testes are not the primary source of cancer.

Surgery

For women with ovarian or cervical cancer, a surgeon may try and preserve one ovary so that fertility is possible. However, surgery can cause scarring in the fallopian tubes, which may prevent eggs from traveling to meet the sperm. Women with small cervical cancers can have a new surgery called a trachelectomy, which removes the cervix but leaves the uterus behind, allowing a woman to carry a pregnancy. For men, surgery on the prostate, bladder, urethra, or colon can result in a condition called retrograde ejaculation, which does impair fertility.

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