Can I Get Pregnant on Chemotherapy?

Some cancer treatments can cause infertility, which is the inability to get pregnant. If you’re receiving chemotherapy, infertility may be temporary or permanent. But does that mean you cannot get pregnant while receiving chemotherapy? Read on to find out.

Key takeaways:
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    Contrary to popular belief, you can get pregnant while on chemotherapy. But it’s not recommended.
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    Many chemotherapy medications can harm an unborn baby. This can cause congenital abnormalities, premature births, and miscarriages.
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    It is crucial to avoid getting pregnant while receiving chemotherapy.
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    Talk to your oncologist about the best and most effective birth control methods for your situation.
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    Your cancer care team may recommend waiting six months to one year after chemotherapy before getting pregnant.

Does chemotherapy affect your ability to get pregnant?

Yes, chemotherapy can reduce a person’s ability to become pregnant, causing infertility. For some people, infertility during cancer treatment is temporary. Yet, others realize they will no longer be able to become pregnant after treatment.

Chemotherapy uses strong medications to treat cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, the stage, and other factors, your cancer care team may recommend chemotherapy alone. Sometimes, combining chemotherapy with other treatments, like radiation therapy, works best.

Besides killing cancer cells, chemotherapy also affects the normal cells in your body. Cells that divide quickly are primarily affected. These fast-growing normal cells include the oocytes, which are the immature female egg cells. The sperm cells also divide quickly and can be damaged by chemotherapy.

Can I get pregnant while receiving chemotherapy?

It’s a common misconception that a woman or a person with a female reproductive system cannot get pregnant while on chemotherapy.

Although chemotherapy can cause infertility, not everyone on chemotherapy is affected. Some people undergoing treatment with chemotherapy remain fertile during and after treatment. This means that there is a possibility that you can still become pregnant while receiving chemotherapy. But it’s not advisable because of the risks involved.

Is it safe to get pregnant during chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy can cause congenital abnormalities (birth defects) or stillbirths. Some chemotherapy drugs carry an increased risk of miscarriages or premature births. Because of these risks, it is critical to avoid becoming pregnant while receiving chemotherapy and for some time after treatment.

You may no longer have a period while on chemotherapy if you’re a woman or a person with a female reproductive system. But there is still a chance you may become pregnant even if your periods have stopped.

Since chemotherapy can also affect sperm cells, a man or a person with a male reproductive system who is receiving chemotherapy should avoid fathering a child while on treatment.

Whether male or female, it’s best to use effective birth control methods while on chemotherapy and for several months after the completion of treatment.

Some cancer patients may receive chemotherapy while pregnant, but the timing is essential. For example, chemotherapy is not given during the first three months of pregnancy because of its harmful effects on a growing fetus.

Ways to prevent pregnancy during chemotherapy

If chemotherapy is part of your cancer treatment, your cancer care team will discuss birth control methods while on treatment.

Abstinence is an effective way to avoid getting pregnant. However, if you’re sexually active, consider a barrier form of contraception. These methods block the sperm from reaching an egg, thus preventing pregnancy. It’s important to remember that these forms of birth control are not 100% effective.

Some barrier contraceptives include:

Male condoms: these are also called external condoms and are the most commonly used barrier form of contraception.

Female condoms: also known as internal condoms, they are inserted inside the vagina a few hours before having sex.

Diaphragm/cervical cap: this is a reusable contraceptive worn inside the vagina.

For extra safety, your healthcare provider may recommend using two birth control methods, like condoms and spermicides.

Ask your oncologist if a copper intrauterine device (IUD) may be right for you. An IUD is an effective form of long-acting, nonhormonal birth control method.

Certain hormonal contraceptives are not recommended for some types of cancer. For example, birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone may not be appropriate for you if you have a hormone-sensitive tumor. Some hormonal contraceptives can interfere with chemotherapy.

Talk to your healthcare providers about the risks and benefits of the different types of birth control. Your oncology team can also help you select the best contraceptive based on effectiveness, your type of cancer, and your desires.

How long after chemotherapy can I get pregnant?

Most oncologists recommend waiting at least six months to a year after finishing chemotherapy before trying to get pregnant.

Getting pregnant too soon after chemotherapy may be harmful to an unborn baby. Experts believe damaged eggs may remain in the body for approximately six months after treatment.

Some healthcare providers recommend waiting even longer – like 2 to 5 years – after chemotherapy before becoming pregnant.

The length of time you will have to wait depends on the following:

  • The type of cancer.
  • The cancer's stage.
  • The chemotherapy drugs you recieved.
  • Your age.

Men may be advised to wait for 2 to 5 years after completing chemotherapy before fathering a child. Researchers believe it takes about two years for damaged sperm to be replaced. You will give your body enough time to eliminate the damaged sperm. For some people, sperm production might stop completely after chemotherapy, causing permanent infertility.

While chemotherapy can cause infertility, not everyone is affected. This means that you can still become pregnant while receiving chemotherapy, but it’s not a good idea. Many chemotherapy medications can lead to birth abnormalities, stillbirths, premature births, and miscarriages. Discuss the most appropriate and effective birth control methods with your cancer care team and your partner.

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