Fertility & Cancer: Why Your Eggs are Needed

Women may need the help of an egg donor for a number of reasons. While most donors understand that poor egg quality or advancing age of the intended mother are common contributors, many others may not realize that a cancer survivor may need the help of an egg donor.

The most obvious way that cancer can impact fertility is when the cancer itself impacts the reproductive organs. In these instances, doctors may opt to remove the affected organs, and that will leave a woman unable to conceive or carry a child.

Even in cases where the cancer has nothing to do with the reproductive organs, an egg donor’s help may still be necessary. Certain forms of cancer treatment can allow a woman to become cancer free, but the same treatment may also leave her infertile.

Treatment options that can lead to fertility problems include chemotherapy or radiation targeted at the abdomen or pelvic. The issue arises when the ovaries absorb too much of the radiation. Doctors believe this radiation can destroy eggs within the ovaries. The extremity of radiation’s impact on a woman will depend on a variety of factors including her age, egg reserve, and each individual’s response to radiation.

The fact that the same treatment can have no impact on one patient at all, while leaving a different patient completely infertile, is frustrating.  Some forms of treatment may lead to temporary infertility, while in other cases, the side effect may be irreversible. Certain forms of chemotherapy can also impact fertility, with higher doses leading to infertility more often.

The side effect of permanent infertility can be especially oppressive to survivors who are wishing to build their families. The result is that, often, these women will turn to assisted reproductive technologies to build their families in spite of the cancer. And when they do, chances are that they’re going to need your help to complete their family.

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the upcoming book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.