Having treatment for ovarian cancer can affect your fertility (your ability to have children). You may be single or in a relationship. You may not be sure if you want children in the future or you may be diagnosed just at the age when you were planning to start a family. This can make ovarian cancer even harder to cope with.
Your treatment and fertility
Ovarian cancer treatment may mean the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes and the uterus (womb). This means you won't be able to become pregnant naturally but you may still have other options.
If the cancer is diagnosed early and only one ovary is affected, it might be possible to keep your uterus (womb) and the unaffected ovary. This will be discussed with you before your surgery takes place. This means you may still be able to have a child in the future. However, chemotherapy may damage your remaining ovary or increase your risk of an earlier menopause.
Talking about fertility
It's important to discuss your fertility needs with your team before treatment starts. This will help you, your partner if you have one and your medical team plan the most appropriate treatment for you. It’s important to realise that it may not be possible to preserve (keep) your fertility. Sometimes having this discussion before treatment starts may not be possible. For example, if treatment has to start immediately or you've been diagnosed through emergency surgery. In this case you may want to talk about your options after the treatment when you feel ready.
Your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or consultant can talk to you about accessing further fertility counselling and provide referral letters for your GP and other fertility services.
A discussion about your fertility and treatment options should include:
- Any options to change treatment to preserve fertility.
- A realistic assessment of your chances of getting pregnant after treatment.
- A full and honest discussion about the impact of cancer on your life.
- Thoughts about the impact on any children you may have already or plan to have in future if treatment doesn’t prolong your life. This should also include the impact on your partner if you have one.
- Options for fertility treatment, including the costs if you choose to fund this privately.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
If you don't have a total hysterectomy (removal of your womb) as part of your treatment it may be possible for you to explore IVF.
IVF is the process in which eggs are fertilised by sperm (from your partner or a donor) and then placed into your womb. Depending on your diagnosis it may be possible to collect your eggs before your treatment starts. But it may not always be possible to delay treatment to do this. In this case you can still use a donor egg (an egg from someone else).
In some areas the NHS will cover the cost for some IVF. Speak to your CNS or consultant, who can support you to get a referral from your GP. If you're not eligible for NHS funding or you decide to pay for IVF you can contact a private clinic. Private fertility treatment costs vary across the UK.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulates and licenses fertility clinics. You can find out more about IVF techniques, how long treatment may take, how to find a clinic and the costs on their website. Most fertility centres advise that you wait for two years after treatment ends before trying to have a baby.
If you don't want or are unable to have IVF, there may be other options for having a child.
Surrogacy is where someone else carries your baby through pregnancy for you. They are called a surrogate.
Traditional surrogacy is where the surrogate’s eggs are used and your partner’s sperm fertilises it. This could also be a donor’s sperm. It's usually done by artificial insemination where sperm is put directly into the womb. It can be done in a clinic or with an insemination kit at home. Traditional surrogacy is also known as partial surrogacy.
Full surrogacy is when an embryo (an egg that has already been fertilised) is placed inside the uterus (womb) of your surrogate. This embryo is created using sperm from your partner or sperm donor and an egg previously collected from you or an egg donor. This type is more complicated than traditional surrogacy. Full surrogacy is also known as host surrogacy.
The legal aspects and costs of surrogacy are complicated. Surrogacy UK provides detailed and accurate information about this.
Adoption and fostering
Adoption is where you would take over responsibility for the parenting of a child from their biological or legal parent or parents. All rights and responsibilities are moved permanently to the adopting parent or parents.
Fostering is a way of providing a home for a child at times when they're unable to live with their birth family. This includes providing care in emergencies and for longer periods of time. The child will remain in touch with their biological family and hopefully will return home. Although most adoption agencies allow cancer survivors to adopt, some require a letter from a doctor to confirm good health. Others may require a certain amount of time to pass after you have completed treatment for cancer.
CoramBAAF Adoption and Fostering Academy has more information about this.
Coping with your emotions
It may not be until after your treatment has finished that you have the time and ability to process your feelings. You might find that any relief related to finishing treatment is replaced by anger or grief at not being able to have children naturally. You may feel isolated and unable to share your emotions with a partner if you have one or your family. It can be hard to feel joy for friends and family who can have children and this might make you feel guilty. This may put a strain on your relationships but it's important to share these feelings rather than keeping them to yourself.
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Last reviewed: January 2022
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