Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases that can affect anyone. It is also a reason for causing untimely deaths around the world. There are many types of cancers affecting the human body, and most of them respond to treatment only with an early diagnosis. However, cancer can affect various functions of the body and can also cause fertility problems. Cancer and cancer treatment are known to affect fertility in both males and females. Whether someone is diagnosed with cancer or is already battling with it, fertility might not be their first concern. However, it is important to know about the correlation between infertility and cancer. Infertility refers to the inability to conceive a child naturally, and it has an active link with cancer.
Blood cancer is a type of cancer that affects the production and function of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow which is the production area of the blood. There are many types of blood cancers including leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. However, only lymphoma is associated with causing low sperm count in men.
What Causes Infertility in Cancer Patients?
Infertility because of cancer can either be temporary or permanent, depending on the following factors:
- Type of cancer
- Type of therapy
- Side effects of the treatment
- Other medication or health problems
Infertility is more likely to be caused by the side effects of the cancer treatment.
How Does Blood Cancer Affect Fertility?
Blood cancer like Hodgkin lymphoma causes a low sperm count in males. However, it is the treatment of blood cancer that is more likely to cause infertility rather than the disease itself. Furthermore, blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemias are more common in young adults and even children who are yet to start a family. So, before starting cancer treatment in India, it is important to discuss fertility options with the doctor.
Chemotherapy and Infertility
Chemotherapy is a standard treatment option for almost all types of cancers including blood cancer. It is the use of high doses of drugs that kill the cancer cells in the body. Since it is not a targeted therapy, it affects the healthy cells in the body too. Different medications are used in case of chemotherapy, and not all have the similar effect. It also affects both men and women differently. For example, in case of men chemotherapy can cause azoospermia – sperm to be absent in the semen. In women, it can lead to early menopause or ovarian failure (the inability of the ovaries to release an egg).
Moreover, since there are a number of factors that influence fertility in cancer patients, the doctors cannot predict who will be affected. However, combination chemotherapy is more likely to cause infertility rather than single drug therapy.
Radiation Therapy and Infertility
Radiation therapy is generally used in combination with other treatment methods. In this treatment, high-energy rays are targeted at the cancer site to destroy cancer cells. Depending on the type of cancer, radiation therapy is given in small doses over a period of time to reduce its side-effects.
When doctors are administering radiation therapy, every attempt is made to shield the reproductive organs to prevent cases of infertility. However, even in cases of low doses, radiation therapy can decrease the sperm count and also testosterone levels. This side-effect can be either temporary or permanent. In cases of women, ovaries might be directly in the radiation field.
Are There Any Options for Preserving Fertility before Cancer Treatment?
Since infertility is likely a result of the treatment rather than cancer itself, it is essential to talk about it with the doctor before starting cancer treatment. The following options can help preserve fertility, especially in cases where infertility is likely.
- Freezing eggs or sperm
- Freezing embryos
- Using donor eggs, embryos or sperm
Blood cancer can indeed cause infertility in both men and women. Even though it may be a farfetched thought especially for some who is recently diagnosed with cancer, it is important to discuss fertility and consider options for preserving it before starting the treatment. Consulting a renowned cancer treatment hospital in India like Max Healthcare will help in treating cancer and also preserving fertility as per the patient’s will.