, Volume 23, Issue 8, pp 735-743
Date: 06 May 2008

Female fertility and colorectal cancer

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access



It is estimated that the incidence of cancer in women aged 40 years or less is 8%. Females under the age of 40 are in their childbearing years. In the Western world, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the most common malignancy of the gastrointestinal tract. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the USA. The incidence of CRC in patients under 40 is 3–6%. Over the past decades, there has been a significant improvement in survival rates due to progress in cancer treatment, including CRC. This has been achieved with advances in adjuvant chemotherapeutic regimens. In the case of locally advanced rectal cancer, radiation therapy is also used. Treatment for CRC may have adverse effects on female fertility. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the effects of treatment of CRC on female fertility as well as the options for fertility preservation.

Materials and methods

A review of relevant English language articles was performed on the basis of a MEDLINE search of the keywords: female, fertility, fecundity, colon, rectal cancer, fertility preservation, chemotherapy, and radiation.


Surgical resection for colon cancer possibly has no effect on female fertility. Resection below the peritoneal reflection may adversely affect fertility, based on lower fertility and fecundity rates associated with pelvic surgery for ulcerative colitis and familial adenomatous polyposis. Standard 5-FU-based chemotherapy may not have significant effects. The advent of oxaliplatin in adjuvant chemotherapy may be more harmful. Adjuvant and neoadjuvant radiation therapy may cause premature ovarian failure using current dosing schedules. The effect of pregnancy and female hormones on the incidence, progression, and recurrence of CRC remains unclear. Established methods for fertility preservation include ovarian transposition and embryo cryopreservation. Oocyte cryopreservation has yielded inferior results. An investigational fertility preservation method is ovarian tissue cryopreservation, with promising results. Ovarian suppression and the use of apoptotic inhibitors are also investigational at present.


Young female patients need to be informed about the effects of treatment on fertility and options for fertility preservation. A multidisciplinary approach for appropriate consultation of these patients is mandatory.