Fertility & Cancer: Why Your Help is Needed

The need for a surrogate in a male-male coupling is obvious. The necessity for a surrogate when an intended mother is in the equation is less clear. There are many reasons an intended mother may need the assistance of a surrogate to complete her family. Many of these reasons are deeply personal and rarely discussed openly due to their sensitive nature. One potential reason a woman may need a surrogate is if she is a cancer survivor.

Cancer can most obviously attack a woman’s fertility if the tumors are effecting her reproductive organs directly. Cancer of the cervix, uterus, or ovaries can often lead to a partial or complete hysterectomy. Clearly, if a woman’s reproductive organs are altered or removed, she will likely be left unable to carry her own child.

Other forms of cancer not directly effecting her reproductive system can also have an impact on a woman’s fertility. This is because certain forms of cancer treatment may cause temporary or permanent infertility as a side effect.

Chemotherapy or radiation targeted at the abdomen or pelvis is especially problematic. Issues can arise 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 individual response to radiation. Certain forms of chemotherapy can also impact fertility, with higher doses leading to infertility more often.

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.

The side effect of permanent infertility can be especially oppressive to survivors who want 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.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 22 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for the last 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 of Reproductive Medicine, the American Fertility Association, 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 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 created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 28 years and their two teenage daughters.