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Pregnancy Odds Good for Childhood Cancer Survivors, Study Finds

'It just might be a little harder,' researcher says

FRIDAY, July 12, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Despite having an increased risk of infertility, many childhood cancer survivors can become pregnant, a new study shows.

Nearly two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors who tried to conceive for at least one year without success eventually did become pregnant, the study found. This is comparable to the rate of eventual pregnancy among all women who are diagnosed as infertile.

"Most women think that if they had cancer as a child, then they'll never have children. It turns out that many of them can get pregnant. It just might be a little harder," study senior author Dr. Lisa Diller, chief medical officer of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, said in a center news release.

The researchers looked at data from more than 3,500 sexually active female survivors of childhood cancer, aged 18 to 39, and a control group of more than 1,300 of their female siblings who did not have childhood cancer. Nearly 16 percent of the childhood cancer survivors were infertile, and nearly 13 percent of these women tried to conceive for at least one year without success. The remainder of the survivors in the infertile group had ovarian failure and may not have even attempted pregnancy.

Nearly 11 percent of the women in the control group were infertile. This means that the survivors of childhood cancer had about a 50 percent higher risk of infertility than those in the control group, according to the study, published July 13 in Lancet Oncology.

Among the childhood cancer survivors who had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for at least a year, 64 percent conceived after, on average, another six months, compared with an average of five months for infertile women in the control group who eventually conceived.

Women whose childhood cancer was treated with alkylating agent chemotherapy or high-dose radiation to the abdomen or pelvis had the highest risk of infertility.

The study also found that only 42 percent of cancer survivors who sought treatment for infertility were prescribed medication, compared with 75 percent in the control group. Both groups -- 69 percent of survivors and 73 percent in the control group -- were similarly likely to seek medical help for their infertility.

"What we found delivers a really nice message to clinicians. If you have a patient who is a childhood cancer survivor and is self-reporting clinical infertility, the chances are good that she will become pregnant," said Diller, the medical director of the Quality of Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"Women who have a history of childhood cancer treatment should consider themselves likely to be fertile. However, it might be important to see an expert sooner rather than later if a desired pregnancy doesn't happen within the first six months," she advised.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about the effects of childhood cancer treatment on fertility.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, news release, July 12, 2013
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