How Cancer Affects Female and Male Fertility

cancer y fertilidad

Cancer is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. The battle against this disease can be a challenging journey, and one of the concerns that may arise after overcoming it is how cancer treatments can affect fertility. In this article, we ask our experts at Vida Fertility about “cancer and fertility,” the effects of cancer treatment on fertility, and the options available for preservation.

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Cancer and Fertility: How does cancer affect fertility? The effects of cancer treatment

Detecting a tumor or cancer is an extremely difficult moment in the lives of those who experience it. At this point, they embark on a challenging journey that involves undergoing cancer treatments to combat the disease, all with the firm goal of regaining their health and continuing with their lives.

However, for some of these individuals who have conquered cancer, another concern arises: the possibility of facing fertility problems as a result of cancer treatments.

Cancer treatment can have a significant impact on male fertility. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while effective in fighting cancer, can damage sperm and reduce semen quality. This can lead to temporary or, in some cases, permanent infertility.

Testicular cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, or Hodgkin’s lymphoma can affect male fertility even more.

Female Infertility

Women can also experience fertility problems as a result of cancer therapy, for example, in the case of breast cancer, uterine or cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and lymphomas. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage eggs and ovarian tissue, resulting in a loss of fertility or a significant decrease in ovarian reserve.

At Vida Fertility, we are at your service to perform the necessary tests and detect possible anomalies in the quality and quantity of sperm.

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Freezing Eggs and Sperm: The path to fertility preservation

Fertility preservation has become an important option for those facing cancer. It allows patients to hope to become parents in the future, even after cancer treatment. Below, we will explore how fertility can be preserved in both men and women.

Fertility Preservation in Men

Sperm cryopreservation is an effective technique for preserving male fertility. Before starting cancer treatment, men can provide sperm samples, which will be frozen and stored for future use in fertility treatments.

Fertility Preservation in Women

For women, fertility preservation involves different approaches depending on their situation. Egg cryopreservation is a common option, where mature eggs are extracted, frozen, and stored for future use. There are also other techniques, such as embryo cryopreservation and ovarian tissue transplantation.

If you are considering fertility preservation before starting cancer treatment, our medical team can provide you with guidance and specialized evaluations.

Cancer and Fertility Forum: User questions for our doctors

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To what extent do treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy affect fertility?

Dr. John Peay

Most cancer treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation therapy, are aimed at causing cancer cells to die or be severely damaged.

While these drugs or therapies try to be as specific as possible for malignant cells, egg and sperm-producing cells are highly sensitive to these therapies and can be damaged, which in most cases will affect the fertility of men and women alike, possibly causing sterility.

Dra. Elena Santiago, Vida Fertility Team

How do cancer treatments affect a woman’s fertility? And a man’s fertility?

Dra. Elena Santiago

These types of treatments can seriously affect ovarian reserve and egg quality. In many cases, early ovarian failure can be induced, which is essentially early menopause, making future pregnancy conceivable with egg donation if a woman has not chosen to preserve her fertility beforehand.

At other times, after treatment, women may resume regular menstrual cycles, but ovarian reserve and egg quality may be lower than expected. This also poses problems for conception, and often, they will have to undergo reproductive techniques to seek pregnancy.

In men, the situation is similar. There are cases where treatments can induce azoospermia (total absence of sperm). In other cases, sperm production may be preserved, but sperm quality may be affected, posing difficulties in natural conception.

Once cancer is overcome, and seeing that sperm quality is low, would conventional IVF be recommended, or would you go straight to ICSI?

Dr. John Peay

For cases of reduced sperm quality, it is always advisable to use the ICSI technique (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) because it allows us to better select sperm and gives us better chances of success.

Conventional IVF is usually reserved for cases where semen conditions are not altered.

Does the risk of developing cancer increase if I undergo multiple ovarian stimulations?

Dra. Elena Santiago

According to recent studies, it is described that up to 6 ovarian stimulations do not increase the risk of developing hormone-dependent cancers in the future.

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What does reproductive medicine offer for preserving the fertility of cancer patients? How would fertility treatment proceed after preservation or freezing?

Dra. Elena Santiago Romero

Preserving sperm is extremely simple and quick. Multiple samples can be collected if necessary to ensure a sufficient quantity for the future, but even with a single, high-quality sample, we can obtain enough material for several IVF cycles.

For women with cancer, the process is more complex because it involves about a 2-week ovarian stimulation to collect multiple eggs in the same cycle, and the goal is always to obtain a good cohort of high-quality eggs to maximize future possibilities.

The stimulation protocol and the timing of its start can be adapted to the disease’s needs. Usually, it can be started at any time in the cycle to avoid delaying the start of cancer treatment.

Once the eggs or sperm are frozen, the next step is thawing and fertilizing to create embryos in the laboratory. In the case of women, this step is done once we are sure that their recovery is complete, and their health is good enough to consider a pregnancy.