Can I get pregnant during chemotherapy? Why shouldn’t I? What is the best way to avoid pregnancy when I have cancer?
There is a myth that a woman cannot get pregnant while on chemotherapy. In fact, women can, and have become pregnant while receiving cancer treatments. Why should you avoid pregnancy during cancer treatment?
A big problem is that chemotherapy drugs that work by anti-angiogenesis, cutting off the supply of blood to a tumor, can produce devastating malformations to a developing baby. Because of this, you will be asked to use at least one highly effective form of birth control and one additional method throughout your treatment.
Also, some forms of birth control may not be safe for women with certain types of cancer. Therefore, it is very important to educate couples about fertility and the risk of getting pregnant during cancer treatment.
Whether you are male or female, it is imperative that you prevent pregnancy while you are on chemotherapy, and for a period of time after chemotherapy and other cancer treatments have been completed. In women, ovulation, the formation of an egg capable of producing a baby, occurs prior to a menstrual period. It cannot be assumed that because your periods have stopped that you cannot become pregnant. It is of the utmost importance you use reliable birth control whenever you have sexual intercourse.
Choosing birth control during cancer treatment
The most highly effective forms of non-hormonal birth control are sterilization (tubal ligation for women and vasectomy for men) and abstinence. The most highly effective, long acting, reversible form of pregnancy prevention is the copper intrauterine device (IUD).
Highly-effective hormonal birth control includes the Mirena IUD, progesterone implants (Implanon or Nexplanon), and Depo-Provera injections. Birth control pills, vaginal rings, and patches can also be highly effective with consistent use.
Less effective birth control includes condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, spermicides and spermicidal sponges, natural family planning, and the withdrawal method. You can learn more about the various forms of birth control, how they work and their level of effectiveness at http://www.birthcontrol.com.
We can help women select the best form of birth control that will be safe with certain types of cancer. If you have breast cancer or are at increased risk of a blood clot due to the type of cancer you have or its treatment, it is usually recommended you avoid hormonal forms of birth control during the treatment and for six or more months after.
Avoidance of pregnancy during cancer treatment and for a period of time after treatment is critical. You should consult your gynecologist and your oncologist or oncology nurse practitioner to determine the risks and benefits of the various forms of birth control prior to the start of treatment.
If you do desire pregnancy in the future, you should ask to see a fertility specialist prior to starting treatment so fertility preservation options can be discussed. Often, cancer treatments can leave both men and women infertile, so many patients opt to freeze their sperm or eggs prior to treatment. After you have completed treatment for cancer, it’s essential that you consult your oncologist prior to attempting pregnancy.
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Kovacs, P. (2012). Contraception for Women With Cancer. Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/771338