Cancer treatment often includes the use of
radiation therapy. There is understandable concern of the future fertility for women
who undergo these treatments. Treatment can affect female fertility in two ways. First the reproductive organs are damaged through the process and a woman may be unable to conceive. Secondly, there is also concern with the less obvious effect the treatment may have on the eggs necessary for future conception. Damage to the eggs could result in birth defects.
Researchers from the Danish Cancer Society reviewed the rates of pregnancy complications in women that had previous radiation therapy as children. The study, published in the
Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that there was no significant difference in the number of live births, still births, or abortions.
reviewed the records of pregnancy outcomes in 21,125 women. The women included:
- 1,688 survivors of childhood cancer
- 2,737 sisters of cancer survivors
- 16,700 women in general population
The rates of live births, stillbirths, or abortions were noted. The abortions included
ectopic, and others. The review found that there was no significant increase in risk of complications in women that had been treated for cancer than the general population. There were two smaller subgroups that did appear to have higher rates of spontaneous abortion:
- Survivors with high-dose irradiation to the ovary and uterus
- Survivors with high-dose radiation to the pituitary gland
Before receiving radiation treatment you should talk to your doctor about fertility concerns. This study demonstrated that certain types of radiation may not affect future fertility options but others may need a closer look. This is just one study and can not provide conclusive evidence. Several studies with specific conditions will need to be conducted to fully understand the effects of radiation therapy on fertility.
Treating the cancer is the first step, but talk to your oncologist about the short- and long-term effects of the treatment. Having the information will help you make the best decision for you.
Winther JF, Boice JD, Svendsen AL, Frederiksen K, Stovall M, Olsen JH. Spontaneous abortion in a Danish population-based cohort of childhood cancer survivors.
J Clin Oncol. 2008 Sep 10;26(26):4340-6.
Last reviewed December 2008 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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