This page has been fact-checked by a Doctor of nursing practice specializing in Oncology and has experience working with mesothelioma patients.
Sources of information are listed at the bottom of the article. We make every attempt to keep our information accurate and up-to-date.
Please Contact Us with any questions or comments.
Fertility in women with mesothelioma is a genuine concern. Although rare, women in childbearing years may develop this cancer. Treatments and the cancer itself can cause infertility, but a patient may take steps to preserve the ability to have a child.
Infertility in Women
Infertility means not being able to conceive a child. Both men and women can be infertile temporarily or permanently. Fertility may be limited, making conception challenging but not impossible, or a person may become completely infertile, making pregnancy impossible.
A woman may become infertile in several ways:
- Her ovaries do not produce mature, viable eggs.
- Her eggs cannot be fertilized because of some damage to the reproductive organs.
- Her eggs may become fertilized but will not implant inside the uterus.
How Cancer Can Cause Infertility
Cancer treatment, rather than cancer itself, is most likely to threaten a woman’s fertility; however, some cancers impact fertility directly, regardless of treatments.
For example, cancers of the reproductive organs may affect fertility, as may metastatic tumors in these organs that originated as mesothelioma.
Chemotherapy and Fertility
Chemotherapy is the most common cancer treatment. It is very effective at shrinking tumors, so most mesothelioma patients will experience this treatment. Chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells, but these drugs also affect healthy cells.
Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to destroy a woman’s ova:
A woman is born with a set number of ova (also known as “eggs”). Once destroyed, those ova cannot be recreated. These chemotherapy drugs will not make all women infertile, but the risks are high.
Thankfully, other chemotherapy drugs carry a lower risk. Chemotherapy-caused infertility is more likely in women over thirty-five who receive treatment. For younger women who emerge from treatment with their fertility intact, their fertility may not last as long as it would normally.
Surgery and Fertility
Surgical treatment for mesothelioma, when performed near reproductive organs, also poses a risk to fertility. Certain cancers, such as uterine or ovarian cancer, may require the removal of these organs, resulting in infertility.
Any abdominal surgery has the potential to damage reproductive organs. This could include surgery to remove abdominal tumors in women with peritoneal mesothelioma.
Radiation and Fertility
Radiation may also cause fertility concerns. This treatment aims a beam of high-energy radiation at tumors to kill cancer cells. While carefully targeted, this radiation can still damage other organs.
When targeted tumors are in the abdomen, reproductive organs may be affected. Radiation for peritoneal tumors may also damage organs, resulting in fertility limitations.
Radiation on metastatic brain tumors can also affect fertility if it damages the pituitary gland since it is responsible for releasing hormones involved in conception.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is the type of mesothelioma most likely to affect fertility in women. This is because peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdominal organs. Since this cancer occurs in the same part of the body as reproductive organs, fertility is a significant concern.
However, one group of researchers found it possible to preserve fertility in women undergoing surgery and heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
In this study, surgeons removed as many of the tumors as possible. Then HIPEC was used to inject heated chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity. Of the women participating in the study, 100% conceived and gave birth within two years of treatment.
Speak up about Fertility, Before Treatment
According to research, women are less likely than men to know the infertility risks of cancer treatment; therefore, it is essential for women to ask for information concerning how cancer and its treatments may affect fertility. They should also ask what can they can do to preserve fertility before proceeding with treatments.
Young women are not often diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, they do exist, and they may want to have children if they can beat their cancer. If this sounds like you, ask for help. Please don’t wait for information that may not come until it’s too late.
There are ways to obtain adequate fertility preservation before cancer treatment, such as freezing embryos or egg retrieval. These need to occur prior to starting on therapy, and there would need to be discussions about using a surrogate.
This comes with many ethical and emotional considerations that you need to discuss with a specialty oncology fertility specialist. If this is important to you, speak with your medical care team.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.