Deciding whether to become a parent

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1 Deciding whether to become a parent This information is an extract from the booklet, Relationships, sex and fertility for young people affected by cancer. You may find the full booklet helpful. We can send you a copy free see page 6. Contents When is it okay to start a family? Common questions about pregnancy Getting pregnant naturally Adoption Staying childless 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? 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 is a chance of the baby not developing normally. Most doctors recommend waiting for at least a year after treatment to try for a pregnancy. You can discuss this with your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. During the time of your cancer treatment, it is important to use effective contraception if you are sexually active. Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 1 of 6

2 When you are planning to have a child, you ll need to take into account your general health and well-being and how well you have 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. For women If you have been told that the chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) may make you have an earlier menopause, you may want to start trying to have a family before you reach your mid-30s, in case you have your menopause early. Common questions about pregnancy Will 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. 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 around five years after finishing treatment. Can I pass cancer on to my children? There s been a lot of research looking at 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. There are a very small number of people whose families have a faulty gene that increases their risk of 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 Page 2 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

3 you to see a geneticist (a doctor specialising in these issues) if needed. Will I be able to breastfeed my 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 (high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer) 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 have 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 are 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 disabled by cancer or its treatment? Yes, Social Services departments can help parents with disabilities. They give 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 checkups. You can also go straight to your local social services department. The telephone number for your local social services office should be in the phone book listed under your local council s name. There are also parent-to-parent support organisations for disabled parents. For more information, call our cancer support specialists free on Getting pregnant naturally For a better chance of being able to get pregnant (or to get your partner pregnant) naturally, it is important for you and your partner to try to have as fit and healthy a lifestyle as you can. Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 3 of 6

4 Top tips for pregnancy Stop smoking. Don t drink alcohol. Don t take any recreational drugs. Ask your doctor if any medicines that you or your partner are taking are absolutely necessary. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Women should take folic acid for at least two months before trying for a baby and until the pregnancy has reached twelve weeks your pharmacist can tell you the appropriate dose. Keep your weight within the normal range for your height. Most people don t need any other vitamins if they have a healthy diet. Pregnancy is more likely if you have regular sexual intercourse (2 3 times a week) than if you try to target the right time in the month or have long periods without sex. Keep cool 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 have 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. Adoption If you are unable to get pregnant naturally after cancer treatment, and if fertility treatment doesn t feel the right way for you to become a parent, you might consider adoption. There are many children currently waiting to be adopted in the UK. This can be a very rewarding way to enjoy family life. Adoption is not an easy route, though, and it s not right for everyone. Many of the children waiting for adoption have had to cope with a lot of upset in their lives. Some can have a lot of emotional needs and feel insecure as a result. There are very few babies and toddlers in need of adoption. It is usually slightly older children who need adoptive families so you miss out on their early lives. Page 4 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

5 Some people go to other countries to adopt and then bring the children back to the UK. This can bring even more challenges and needs to be thought through very carefully. Many countries have now stopped this type of adoption because so many adoptive families found it difficult to manage. If you re interested in finding out more about adoption, you can ask: your social worker (if you have one) your local Children s Services Department (they should be listed in the phone book under the name of your local council) our cancer support specialists on for a list of helpful organisations. Some of the organisations have information packs about adoption and fostering. Single people and gay and lesbian couples can also apply to adopt or foster children. Staying childless Some people decide that they don t want to have fertility treatment or adopt a child. Many people don t have children, either as a result of cancer or other medical reasons, or simply because the time never felt right. Most go on to enjoy life without children. Some people take an interest in the children of friends or other family members and perhaps become a special and much-loved aunt or uncle. Some people decide to go into jobs that bring them into a lot of contact with children such as teaching, paediatric nursing or social work and enjoy that. Other people find that contact with children is not very important to them and they can enjoy their adult lives with very little contact with children. We re all different. If you find yourself feeling distressed at any point now or in the future at the idea of not being able to have your own children, there are professionals and organisations experienced in helping people to cope. For further information please call one of our cancer support specialists on Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 5 of 6

6 More information and support If you have any questions about cancer, ask Macmillan. If you need support, ask Macmillan. Or if you just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan. Our cancer support specialists are here for everyone living with cancer, whatever you need. Call free on , Monday Friday, 9am 8pm We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate but it should not be relied upon to reflect the current state of medical research, which is constantly changing. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult your doctor. Macmillan cannot accept liability for any loss or damage resulting from any inaccuracy in this information or third party information such as information on websites to which we link. Macmillan Cancer Support Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Registered office 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ REVISED IN 2009 Page 6 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

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