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Can I still have a family even after cancer treatment? This is not a simple yes or no answer. Issues related to fertility after cancer treatment are complex. But at Johns Hopkins, we're working to maximize everyone's potential to have a family.
Fertility in Women
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. But, younger women have more eggs than older women simply because they haven’t been menstruating as longer. The ovaries are where a woman’s eggs are stored. Because most cancer treatments – mainly radiation and chemotherapy – damage the ovaries, we want to find ways to protect those eggs for future fertilization.
A procedure, called invitro fertilization, involves removing a woman’s eggs and fertilize them with her partner’s sperm before she receives cancer treatment.
The fertilized eggs, now called embryos, are frozen and stored until treatment ends, and she has regained her health. Invitro fertilization has been a standard treatment for fertility problems for over 30-years. Removing, fertilizing and storing a woman’s eggs for invitro fertilization may take two to four weeks.
If cancer treatment destroys all of a woman’s eggs, she may still be able to carry a baby using donor eggs. Experimental techniques include freezing a woman’s unfertilized eggs. There are special requirements for this procedure.
To preserve a woman’s eggs faster, experts are exploring ways to freeze a postage stamp-size piece of tissue covering the ovary that contains eggs. After cancer treatment, the tissue is implanted into the woman to restore ovarian function.
There has been some early success with this technique. However, this is not an option for leukemia patients.
Fertility in Men
Fertility issues in men are different than those in women. The amount and quality of sperm a man produces is very sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation.One options of for adult men and adolescent boys can have their sperm frozen ahead of cancer treatments.
Both male and female cancer survivors can be tested for their level of fertility.