How Cervical Cancer Affects Fertility
When you find out you have cervical cancer, you have a lot to think about, including what stage your cancer is, what your treatment will be, how you’ll get through it, and what it may mean for your future. You may have questions about how your cancer will affect your fertility, when it’s OK to try to get pregnant, and what you can do to preserve your fertility.
The answers depend on several things, which include your cancer’s stage and the treatment you get. You and your doctor can talk about whether the following fertility-sparing treatments are good options for you.
If your cancer is limited to small growths in the cervix, you may get this type of treatment. You may also hear it called a cone biopsy.
First, you’ll get anesthesia so you won’t be “awake" for the procedure. Then your doctor will use a scalpel to remove a cone-shaped area of your cervix, including the cancerous tissue and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. This is to make sure no cancer remains. You’ll likely be able to go home later that day.
This treatment should let you become pregnant later on. You’ll probably need to wait 6-12 months before you try to conceive. But there is a chance you may have a higher risk of miscarriage or infertility. This is due to potential changes to and scarring of the cervix after you get this treatment.
Simple or Radical Trachelectomy
if you are interested in preserving your fertility, and you have small tumors and are in the early stages of cervical cancer, your doctor might suggest one of these procedures. Both remove most or all of the cervix — a lot more than with a cone biopsy. The “radical" version may also involve taking out some of the surrounding tissue, some of your upper vagina, and nearby lymph nodes.
As with conization, you should wait 6 to 12 months to conceive after getting a trachelotomy. After that time, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. Your chances of carrying a pregnancy to term are as high as 70%. Your pregnancy will still be considered high-risk, though, and you will need to have your baby by C-section.
Freezing Eggs or Embryos
If your doctor recommends chemotherapy, radiation, or a hysterectomy, you may want to consider freezing your eggs before you get those treatments. Some chemotherapy medicines and radiation treatments may destroy your eggs or damage the uterus, and a hysterectomy is surgery to remove the cervix and uterus.
Freezing your eggs may allow you to conceive through IVF or other techniques and either carry the pregnancy (if you still have your uterus) or work with a surrogate.
Due to side effects, you should avoid getting pregnant during chemotherapy or radiation. Doctors advise waiting at least 6 months after you finish those treatments before you try to conceive.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Navigating the emotions that often come with a cancer diagnosis — and its effects on fertility — is an ongoing process.
A good place to start is in your doctor’s office. Here, you can get the most up-to-date information about how your treatment might affect your ability to get pregnant either now or in the future.
Ask your doctor these questions:
- What stage is my cervical cancer?
- What are my treatment options, what are their side effects, and how will they affect my fertility?
- Should I stop having sex during treatment?
- What type of birth control should I use?
- What do I need to know before I try to get pregnant?
- American Cancer Society: “How Cancer Treatments Affect Fertility in Women."
- NYU Langone Health Pearlmutter Cancer Center: “Fertility-Sparing Options for Cervical Cancer."
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Cervical Biopsy."
- MemorialCare: “Can I Get Pregnant If I'm a Cervical Cancer Survivor? Oncologists Say It's Complicated."
- UpToDate: “Patient education: Fertility preservation in women with early-stage cervical cancer (Beyond the Basics)."
- Cancer.net: “Cervical Cancer: Questions to Ask the Doctor."