MRC Centre for Reproductive Health

Female cancer survivors are one third less likely to achieve pregnancy

Women who survive cancer are more than a third less likely to conceive than women in the general population, new research suggests.

New data from more than 23,000 female cancer survivors in Scotland between 1981 and 2012 found a 38% reduction in conception compared to the general population.

Professor Richard Anderson, from the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, presented his findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Geneva in July, 2017.

This analysis provides the first robust, population-based evidence of the effect of cancers and its treatment on subsequent pregnancy, across the full reproductive age range.

The research showed that all types of cancer have a detrimental effect on fertility, with cervical cancer, breast cancer and leukaemia causing the most significant reduction in pregnancy rates.

Cancer treatment also affects fertility, in varying degrees. Women diagnosed later within the study period (2005 and 2012) were associated with higher rates of pregnancy than those diagnosed earlier (1981 -1988) suggesting that modern oncology treatment is less damaging to fertility.

With rates of cancer survival increasing in both young male and females, fertility preservation ahead of treatment has an increasing role to play in fertility clinics. Professor Anderson described such services in all parts of the world, including the USA and Europe, as “very variable.”

Professor Anderson concluded that the results of this study would allow clinicians to advise girls and women more accurately about their future chance of pregnancy.

He said: “The major impact on pregnancy after some common cancers highlights the need for enhanced strategies to preserve fertility in girls and young women with a cancer diagnosis.

“The implications of the diagnosis and planned treatment and, where appropriate, options for fertility preservation should be discussed with the patient. Even for patients considered at low risk of infertility as a result of treatment, a fertility discussion is recommended before treatment begins.”

This research generated national and regional press coverage, including The Scotsman, The Daily Express, The Guardian, The Herald, The Sun, The Courier.

View the Guardian article

View the Herald article