Becoming a parent naturally
The decision to try for a baby is a big one for anyone to make. When you’ve had cancer, this brings its own extra challenges.
When is it okay to start a family?
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It’s always strongly recommended to avoid becoming pregnant or becoming a father during treatment for cancer. Some people become temporarily infertile during treatment. Other people may still be fertile but their eggs or sperm can be temporarily damaged. A pregnancy from damaged eggs or sperm could mean there’s a chance of the baby not developing normally. Most doctors advise waiting 18 months after your treatment has stopped before trying to become pregnant or father a child. You can discuss this with your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. During the time of your cancer treatment, it‘s important to use effective contraception if you’re sexually active.
For women who’ve been told that chemotherapy may make them have an earlier menopause, they may want to start trying to have a family before they reach their mid-30s, in case they have their menopause early.
When you’re planning to have a child, you’ll need to think about your general health and well-being and how well you’ve recovered from cancer. If you finished treatment recently or you still have ongoing problems, your GP or cancer doctor can give you advice about when it may be best for you to try for a pregnancy.
Common questions about pregnancy
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For women, does pregnancy make the cancer more likely to come back?
Research suggests that pregnancy does not make childhood or teenage cancers more likely to come back.
What can I do if I’m worried about becoming a parent and my cancer coming back?
This is a very understandable worry. It can be very difficult if you have a young child and become seriously ill. You may decide to wait for a few years after your treatment has ended before trying to start a family. You can talk to your cancer doctor about when they think enough time has passed and the cancer is unlikely to come back. For many childhood and teenage cancers, this is about five years after finishing treatment.
Can I pass cancer on to my children?
There’s been a lot of research into this question. The research shows that most children who have a parent, or parents, that had cancer as a young person, are at no greater risk of getting cancer than anyone else.
There’s a very small number of people whose families have a faulty gene that increases their risk of getting certain types of cancer. Your doctors will tell you if it’s possible that you have a faulty gene that could be passed on to your children. If you’re worried that you may have a faulty gene, you can talk to your cancer doctor. The doctor will be able to arrange for you to see a geneticist (a doctor specialising in these issues) if needed.
Can women who’ve had cancer breastfeed their baby?
After cancer treatment most women should be able to breastfeed if they want to. Breastfeeding does not make the cancer more likely to come back.
Unfortunately, women who have had radiotherapy to the chest area may not produce enough milk and will need to bottle-feed their baby.
Treatment for some brain tumours can reduce the level of hormones that stimulate the production of milk. Some women who’ve had treatment for brain tumours may not produce enough milk to be able to breastfeed.
There are also certain medicines that you shouldn’t take if you’re breastfeeding. If you have any doubts about whether your cancer or its treatment may make it difficult for you to breastfeed, you can discuss this with your cancer doctor, obstetrician or midwife.
Is there help for parents who are disabled due to cancer or its treatment?
Yes, social services departments can help parents with disabilities. They provide support and equipment where these are needed. You might want to start by talking to the social worker in the hospital where you have your check-ups. You can also go directly to your local social services department (its telephone number should be in the phone book listed under your local council’s name). There are also parent-to-parent support organisations for disabled parents.
Getting pregnant naturally
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For a better chance of being able to get pregnant or get your partner pregnant naturally, it’s important for you and your partner to try to have as fit and healthy a lifestyle as possible. Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for pregnancy:
If you’re a smoker, stop smoking.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Don’t take any recreational drugs.
Ask your doctor whether any medicines that you or your partner are taking are absolutely necessary.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Keep your weight within the normal range for your height.
Most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements if they have a healthy diet.
Women should take folic acid for at least two months before trying for a baby and until the pregnancy has reached 12 weeks - your pharmacist can tell you the appropriate dose.
Pregnancy is more likely if you have sex regularly (2-3 times a week) than if you try to target the ‘right time’ in the month or have long stretches without sex.
Try not to worry if you don’t get pregnant straight away. It can take up to two years for a pregnancy to occur for some people. However, if you‘ve followed the tips for pregnancy and it doesn’t seem to be happening, you can talk to your GP or cancer specialist at any time. You may want to have (or repeat) a fertility test, or your partner may want to be tested.