Cervical cancer is a frightening diagnosis for anyone, but young women in particular worry about its impact on their future fertility. Patients want to survive cancer, and they want to go on to pursue rich, fulfilling lives. For some, the most haunting question is, "Can I get pregnant if I'm a cervical cancer survivor?"
According to Leslie Randall, MD, a gynecological oncologist with Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, Laguna Hills, California, the standard treatment for cervical cancer involves "a combination of surgery, with or without radiation, that typically renders women infertile." Young women may keep their ovaries, which helps maintain hormone function, and they can also freeze and store their eggs before treatment, in a process known as oocyte cryopreservation. According to Randall, if a woman received the standard treatment, she won't be able to carry her baby herself.
But there are other options, Randall explains:
"Women who have stage one cancers . . . can have fertility-sparing surgery. Depending on the stage, the surgery options are either deep cone biopsy, just of the cervix; or, at times, another procedure called a radical trachelectomy, a removal of the cervix and lymph nodes in the pelvic area that preserves the uterus."
It sounds intense, and it is. But if you decide to get pregnant after a radical trachelectomy, your chances of conceiving are actually pretty good. Randall notes "a 50 to 70 percent success rate for term pregnancy." She explains that these pregnancies are considered high risk, and thus are usually managed by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. Unfortunately, after a radical trachelectomy, vaginal delivery isn't an option, and a specialist must schedule a C-section.
Women under the age of 26 should ask their doctors about vaccination in order to prevent cervical cancer — the HPV vaccine protects against most types of cervical cancer, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because it doesn't prevent all types, the CDC still recommends you keep your annual appointment with your gynecologist for a Pap smear.
If you're a young cervical cancer survivor, your chances of getting pregnant depend on the treatment you received. If the standard treatment has left you infertile, keep in mind that other family building options remain. Resolve.org contains a wealth of resources and access to infertility support groups nationwide. If you've just been diagnosed, and having children in the future is important to you, ask your oncologist about the fertility preservation options available to you.