- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Fertility and cancer
- Women’s options after cancer treatment
Women’s options after cancer treatment
Fertility options after cancer treatment may be limited. Your ability to become pregnant may depend on the effects of cancer treatment on fertility, your age and whether you have been through premature ovarian insufficiency or early menopause.
Before trying to conceive, you may want to have your fertility checked. See the Assessing fertility after treatment.
If you harvested and stored eggs or embryos, you may choose to use them after treatment is finished. If your ovaries are still functioning after treatment ends, it is possible to freeze eggs or embryos then.
Learn more about:
- Natural conception
- Donor eggs and embryos
- Finding information about the donor
- Using donor eggs
- Using donor embryos
Some women are able to conceive naturally after finishing cancer treatment. This will only be possible if your body is producing eggs and you have a uterus. Your medical team will do tests to assess your fertility and will encourage you to try for a baby naturally if they think it may be possible to fall pregnant.
Women who have had chemotherapy or pelvic radiation therapy are at risk of sudden menopause, even after periods resume. If menopause is permanent, it means you will no longer be able to conceive naturally.
If you would like to try to fall pregnant naturally, speak with your cancer specialist first. You may be advised to wait between six months and two years before trying to conceive. The length of time will depend on the type of cancer and the treatment you had.
If you have premature ovarian insufficiency after cancer treatment, using donor eggs or embryos may be the only way for you to try for a pregnancy. These options are available to women with a healthy uterus who can be pregnant, although there may be an age limit of about 51.
There are several steps to this process. The first involves taking hormones to prepare the lining of your uterus to receive the donor egg or embryo, and then until the pregnancy is viable. For this reason, women who have a hormone-sensitive cancer may not be able to carry a donor egg or embryo. If you’d like to consider other options, see Other paths to parenthood.
In Australia, clinics can only use eggs and embryos from donors who agree that people born from their donation can find out who they are. This means that the name, address and date of birth of donors are recorded.
All donor-conceived people are entitled to access identifying information about the donor once they turn 18.
In some states, a central register is used to record details about donors and their donor-conceived offspring. Parents of donor-conceived children, and donor-conceived people who are over the age of 18, can apply for information about the donor through these registers. In other states and territories, people who want information about their donor can ask the clinic where they had treatment.
If you’d like to use donor eggs or embryos, discuss the possible issues for donor-conceived children with a fertility counsellor.
Most IVF units in Australia have access to donor eggs. You can also ask a family member or friend to donate eggs. Regardless of where the egg comes from, the donor completes blood tests, answers questions about their genetic and medical information, and goes through a counselling process.
When the egg is removed from the donor’s body, it is fertilised by your partner’s sperm or donor sperm to create an embryo. After a period of quarantine, the embryo is inserted into your uterus. See Women’s options before cancer treatment for more on the general IVF process and for a diagram of how IVF works.
Egg donation is more expensive than standard IVF, as you may be paying costs related to the donor hormone stimulation process.
If you use a donated embryo, you can become pregnant without having a genetic relationship to the baby.
Your body will be prepared for pregnancy using hormones, then a thawed embryo will be transferred into your uterus through the IVF process.
Embryo donations usually come from couples who have gone through fertility treatments and have spare frozen embryos that they don’t wish to use themselves. Embryos may be donated for ethical reasons (instead of destroying the embryos) or compassionate reasons (to help someone with infertility).
We thank the reviewers of this information: Dr Yasmin Jayasinghe, Paediatric Gynaecologist, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Co-chair Fertility Preservation Taskforce, Melbourne, and Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology-Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, and Director, Victorian Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service, VIC; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Aaron Lewis, Consumer; Pampa Ray, Consumer; Dr Sally Reid, Gynaecologist, Fertility SA and Advanced Gynaecological Surgery Centre, Visiting Consultant, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health, The University of Adelaide, SA; A/Prof Kate Stern, Head, Fertility Preservation Service, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Melbourne IVF and Head, Endocrine/Metabolic Clinic, Royal Women’s Hospital, and Co-chair, AYA cancer fertility preservation guidance working group, VIC.
Fertility and Cancer was developed as part of a research study into the experience of fertility after cancer led by Prof Jane Ussher at the Centre for Health Research, Western Sydney University. For a list of the other chief and partner investigators, see cancercouncil.com.au. We acknowledge the input of Dr Amanda Hordern and Prof Jane Ussher, who collaborated on the original draft. We thank CanTeen Australia and the American Cancer Society for permission to draw on their resources. We also thank the cancer survivors who took part in the Western Sydney University research project on fertility and cancer, and whose accounts have been quoted in this booklet.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Coping with cancer?
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment
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How cancer starts and spreads
Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
This is for people with cancer and their partners. It aims to help you understand and deal with the ways cancer and its treatment may affect your sexuality.
Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope