How Cancer Patients Can Plan for Fertility

It may seem like having children is impossible for cancer patients. But by following these guidelines, you can plan and improve your chances.

In addition to the physical and emotional challenges of having cancer, young patients also worry about their ability to conceive. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to improve your ability to have a baby.

In most cases, it is the treatment of cancer that affects fertility. Radiation therapy shrinks cancer cells, but it also increases the chance of miscarriage, early birth, low birth weight and other problems.

Chemotherapy is a common cancer-fighting method, but can weaken the heart. This becomes a problem during pregnancy, when the mother’s heart does double-time as the baby grows. Labor also increases the heart’s work. Surgery to remove cancer can impede a particular body part’s functionality, affecting your chance of having a child.

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If you will undergo one or more of these treatments for your cancer, consider the following to increase your ability to have children after your disease.


Sperm banking

An outpatient procedure, sperm banking is the most used technique in men for preserving fertility. Your sperm is analyzed and frozen for future use.

Testicular sperm extraction

This outpatient procedure for men removes testicular tissue to examine for sperm cells that can be used immediately for in-vitro procedures or frozen for future use.

Testicular tissue freezing

Used for prepubescent boys, testicular tissue is removed and frozen for future use.

Radiation shielding

As a precaution, radiation shields are placed over the testicles during radiation treatment to prevent harm.


Embryo freezing

Also performed as an outpatient procedure, embryo freezing removes mature eggs and then fertilizes them with sperm from a partner or donor. Resulting embryos are frozen for future use.

Ovarian tissue freezing

This is the only option for prepubescent girls. Part or all of an ovary is removed and examined for hormone-producing cells and immature eggs that can be frozen for future use.

Egg freezing

Ten to 14 days after your period, your doctor will perform an outpatient procedure to remove mature eggs from your ovaries for later use. These eggs are then frozen so that they can be used to achieve pregnancy at a later time.

Ovarian shielding

A radiation shield is placed over the ovaries during radiation therapy as a prevention method.

Treating infertility across disciplines

As infertility can be a complicated issue that involves one or both partners and such factors as cancer and cancer treatment, a multidisciplinary approach to your care can help manage all of the various factors that go into infertility.

“One aspect of USC fertility care that makes it unique is that we work very closely with our reproductive gynecology colleagues,” said Mary Samplaski, MD, assistant professor of clinical urology at the USC Institute of Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, who specializes in male infertility at Keck Medicine of USC. “Because we’re all located on the same campus, it makes it very easy for couples to have both male and female factors addressed by their physician teams.”

If you are suffering from infertility, make an appointment with one of the specialists at the USC Los Angeles Fertility Center of Keck Medicine at USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting

By Heidi Tyline King