What you need to know:
- Extensive evidence shows that chemotherapy and radiation treatment are genotoxic.
- This means they can mutate the DNA and damage chromosomes in patients' cancerous and noncancerous cells alike.
Cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, are known for their harsh after-effects.
It not only has an impact on patients’ appearance but also their overall body functioning.
One of the unseen and often not discussed consequences of these important therapies is the patients’ future pregnancies and hopes for healthy children.
Extensive evidence shows that chemotherapy and radiation treatment are genotoxic, meaning they can mutate the DNA and damage chromosomes in patients' cancerous and noncancerous cells alike.
When this occurs in egg cells in women or sperm in men, it can lead to serious foetal and birth defects in a resulting pregnancy.
Studied chemotherapies show the risk of mutated sperm diminishes over time as the treatment agents leave the body and men produce new sperm that was never exposed to the genotoxic agents.
But even though, according to research most people say it took them six to 12 months after chemotherapy to truly felt like themselves again, for most chemotherapeutic drugs, there is still no information on their impact on DNA mutations and chromosomal damage to human sperm or eggs.
“If you are a cancer survivor, having a baby may be a difficult decision for both men and women. Survivors and their partners need to think about many things before starting or adding to their family. Often, pregnancy after several months of cancer treatment is safe for both the mother and baby. Pregnancy does not seem to raise the risk of cancer coming back. Still, some women may be told to wait a number of years before trying to have a baby depending on the type and stage of cancer, type of treatment and a woman’s age,” advises Kenyan physician and radiation oncologist Dr Catherine Nyongesa.
Cancer treatments affect future pregnancy variously. For instance radiation therapy may affect the support cells and blood supply of the uterus.
It also may increase the chances of miscarriage, early birth, low birth weight, and other problems. Some chemotherapy treatment may damage heart cells and weaken the heart. As a result, the heart needs to work harder during pregnancy and labour and thus increases the risk of heart problems.
This is why after conclusion of said treatment Dr Nyongesa recommends that women not get pregnant in the first six months after finishing chemotherapy.
But to exacerbate the problem, there are currently no efficient and affordable tests that can be used to track men’s germ cell health by identifying when the sperm are carrying treatment-related chromosomal mutations.
A novel test that could quickly and easily identify this is in the offing.
A paper published in the journal Plos One says this may soon change. The international team reported success adapting an established cellular DNA analysis technique called fluorescence in situ hybridisation to probe sperm DNA for a wide variety of chromosomal defects simultaneously.