Chemotherapy significantly harms the fertility of female cancer patients’ children, new research has shown.
Scientists found that the offspring of women who underwent the treatment prior to becoming pregnant had a 70 per cent worse likelihood of having a child themselves.
The effects of the intensive drug on a patient’s ability to reproduce are well known, however this new research is the first of its kind to indicate the damage is inherited by the next generation.
Experts believe that chemotherapy medication, which enters the blood stream and is pumped around the body, may alter the genetic expression of inherited germ line cells.
It strongly suggests that the impact of chemotherapy may be greater on eggs than on sperm
Dr Daniel Williams
The same effect was not recorded in the children of male cancer patients, a contrast likely to be explained by the fact sperm constantly regenerates, whereas a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have.
Women treated for cancer while still at a reproductive age are increasingly being encouraged to preserve their fertility by cryopreserving.
However, previous research has indicated that the service is not routinely being offered by the NHS and that young male cancer patients are more likely to be offered sperm freezing because it is simpler and cheaper.
The small study by the University of Utah found that children born to mothers after they had received chemotherapy had 72 per cent fewer children of their own compared to the general population.
By contrast, children born to fathers who had undergone the treatment only had two per cent fewer children than the general population.
How does chemotherapy work?
Dr Daniel Williams, president of the US Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, said: “These two studies highlight the importance of offering pre-chemotherapy fertility preservation services to all reproductive age cancer patients who want to have children and grandchildren in their future.
“Although the studies do not distinguish between different types of cancer and different chemotherapy regimens, it strongly suggests that the impact of chemotherapy may be greater on eggs than on sperm.”