Deciding to start or build upon a family after cancer is a difficult decision, for many reasons – especially if you’ve gone through certain treatments.
In the main, pregnancy after cancer treatment is safe for both mother and baby: the medical community is in agreement that pregnancy does not seem to raise the odds of cancer returning. However, when it comes to exactly when a cancer survivor should embark on pregnancy, the waters become a little muddy, depending on the cancer type and stage, your age, and – especially – the type of treatment you’ve undergone. Let’s start with those:
- Radiation therapy can affect the support cells and blood supply of the uterus, which can also increase the chances of miscarriage, early birth, low birth weight, and other complications.
- Cervical surgery – whether partial or complete – may increase the risks of miscarriage or early birth.
- Chemotherapy is loaded with chemicals which can may damage heart cells and weaken the heart, which will cause it to have to work harder during pregnancy and labour. When chemo is combined with radiation therapy to the upper abdomen or chest, the risks of heart problems increase.
Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all advice to dispense when it comes to post-cancer pregnancy. Some medical experts advise chemo patients to put off pregnancy for six months after the end of treatment, to give any eggs damaged by the treatment the time to leave the body. Others advise that you put off pregnancy for anything from two to five years, as the chance of cancer returning is always higher in the earlier years.
Another major worry that potential parents who have survived cancer wrestle with are the chances of their child contracting cancer too. In actual fact, research demonstrates that children of cancer survivors are not at higher risk. As we know, however, a few cancers are hereditary, and can be passed on through genes. It also goes without saying that a brush with cancer forces people to contemplate their own mortality a litter sooner than everyone else, and the idea of bringing a child into the world and then not being around for them can be a sobering thought.
A new breakthrough in post-cancer motherhood?
For those willing to pursue motherhood after a cancer diagnosis, the usual procedure involves having ovarian tissue removed and frozen before fertility-harming treatments commence. If all goes to plan and the cancer is eradicated, the tissue is put back. It’s mostly a safe procedure – but there are certain cancers which invade the ovarian tissue, meaning that when restored, there is a risk that the cancer will return.
However, science continues to find a way. The latest breakthrough comes from the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, where doctors have created an ‘artificial ovary’ from human tissue and eggs, in an attempt to help women have children after cancer treatment.
A recent demonstration showed that a lab-made ovary could keep human embryos alive, which could then be implanted in the future. This is created by stripping donated ovarian tissue of all of its cells (including any potential cancer cells) in order to leave a bare framework of collagen – which is then pitted with scores of human follicles, which can host early-stage eggs.
Returning you to normal life after successful cancer treatment is the goal of the breast cancer specialists at Thames Breast Clinic.