Can women still become mothers after ovarian cancer? Insights from Manisha Koirala's experience | Health - Hindustan Times

Can women still become mothers after ovarian cancer? Insights from Manisha Koirala's experience

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Jun 20, 2024 11:59 AM IST

As Manisha Koirala accepts not being able to conceive due to ovarian cancer, know how it affects fertility and expert tips to motherhood after beating cancer.

After being diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in 2012, Heeramandi actor Manisha Koirala sought treatment in New York during 2012-13, recovered in 2014 and recently admitted about accepting infertility, saying “it was tough getting ovarian cancer and not being able to be a mother”, which makes it crucial to understand the impact of cancer on fertility and whether women can still become mothers after beating the disease. Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the small female reproductive organ - ovaries, which are responsible for producing eggs - it can spread throughout the abdomen without causing any symptoms.

Beating ovarian cancer: Can women still become mothers? Insights from Manisha Koirala's experience. (File Photo/ AFP)
Beating ovarian cancer: Can women still become mothers? Insights from Manisha Koirala's experience. (File Photo/ AFP)

Manisha had said in an interview with NDTV, “There are, somewhere, unfinished things in my life. As you grow older, you accept your reality. There are so many dreams that you realise are not going to happen, and you make peace with that. Motherhood is one of them. It was tough getting ovarian cancer and not being able to be a mother. But I made peace with that. And I said jo ho gaya so ho gaya (what’s gone is in the past), and let me do my best with what I have.”

A lasting impact

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Supriya Puranik, Director – 9M Fertility and Senior Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ankura Hospital for Women and Child in Pune, shared, “Ovarian cancer has a lasting impact on a woman’s fertility because of the treatments involved, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Chemotherapy is effective for killing cancer cells but can also take a toll on the healthy cells in the ovaries, hurting one’s fertility. Moreover, some women may also encounter temporary or permanent menopause as a result of chemotherapy and will find it challenging to conceive.”

She added, “Even surgery done to extract ovaries or the tumour can affect fertility and one will not be able to conceive and embrace motherhood. However, women should not get bogged down as they have successful chances of conceiving due to assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as egg freezing or IVF. Egg donation or third-party reproduction is the only option for those who have already undergone surgery or chemotherapy. It will be imperative for experts to extend support, cooperation, and guidance when it comes to explaining fertility options to women battling ovarian cancer to help them make informed decisions and improve their reproductive health.”

ART as a saviour?

According to the fertility expert, “Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a ray of hope for women with ovarian cancer who are battling infertility. One can choose freezing or embryo preservation before initiating cancer treatment to fulfill the pregnancy dream. Even for those women with ovarian cancer, using donor eggs or embryos through in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a viable option. It is the need of the hour for women to consult the expert and discuss any doubts regarding cancer treatment and fertility options. The expert will examine you, take down your medical history, perform essential tests and design a suitable ART option for you to be able to achieve a successful pregnancy.”

Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Rohini Khera Bhatt, Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist and Laparoscopic Surgeon at Medicover Hospitals in Navi Mumbai, pointed out, “Ovarian cancer can spread throughout the abdomen without causing any symptoms, which is why it becomes nearly impossible to detect its growth, particularly in initial stages. Due to the development of cancer, there can be disruption in the production of eggs and hormones significantly reducing the chances of conceiving naturally. There could be various factors that could trigger ovarian cancer such as family history of ovarian cancer, endometriosis, never conceived before. Not all women with ovarian cancer have trouble in fertility or conceiving. Women who face complications while conceiving can opt for other options like egg freezing, IVF (In vitro fertilization), IUI (Intrauterine insemination), surrogacy and even adoption.”

Patients with ovarian cancer might still get pregnant with expert help.
Patients with ovarian cancer might still get pregnant with expert help.

Not an impossible dream

Dr Shruti N Mane, Consultant Fertility and IVF Expert at Motherhood Fertility and IVF in Navi Mumbai's Kharghar, explained, “Ovarian cancer can have a significant impact on a woman's fertility, the extent of this impact depends on several factors, including the stage and type of the cancer and the treatment approach. In early-stage ovarian cancer, the ovaries may be removed surgically, which would directly impair a woman's ability to become pregnant naturally. However, if only one ovary is removed, and the remaining ovary is healthy, it may still be possible for the woman to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. In advanced-stage ovarian cancer, more extensive surgery, such as the removal of both ovaries, the uterus and surrounding lymph nodes, may be necessary.”

She revealed, “This would effectively eliminate a woman's natural ability to become pregnant. In such cases, options like egg or embryo preservation before treatment, or the use of a surrogate, may be considered for future family planning. It's important to note that advances in cancer treatment, including targeted therapies and improved surgical techniques, have increased the chances of survival for many women with ovarian cancer. With proper medical care and support, many women are able to become mothers after successfully beating the disease. However, the specific fertility outcomes will depend on the individual's situation and should be discussed with their doctor.”

Dr Nisha Pansare, Fertility Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility in Pune, concluded, “Ovarian cancer can significantly impact a woman's fertility in several ways. The cancer itself or the treatments used, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can damage or destroy the ovaries, reducing the number of viable eggs. This can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant naturally. Additionally, the surgery required to remove ovarian tumours may also impact the ovaries and fallopian tubes, further compromising fertility. Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, has become an important option for women with ovarian cancer. This procedure involves retrieving and freezing a woman's eggs before starting cancer treatment, which can then be used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at a later time. This allows women to preserve their fertility and have the opportunity to conceive a child, even after going through cancer treatment. Egg freezing provides a valuable option for maintaining future reproductive potential for ovarian cancer patients.”

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