Fertility Preservation for Women: Keeping Your Family Dreams Alive
Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating. However, a cancer diagnosis is even more distressing if you want to get pregnant and are worried about infertility. While cancer itself may not affect fertility, cancer treatments can often affect a woman's ability to get pregnant in the future.
Fertility preservation is a new field of medicine that helps to preserve fertility in patients with cancer or other serious conditions, such as lupus, ovarian cysts, and family history of early menopause. With the latest fertility preservation options, you can move beyond the complications of radiation or chemotherapy and still start a family.
Freezing eggs and embyros
Freezing eggs and freezing embryos prior to cancer treatment are the most tried-and-true fertility preservation options for women.
To freeze embryos before cancer treatment begins, your doctor can retrieve your eggs and fertilize them with sperm to create healthy embryos. Then, the doctor can freeze and store the embryos, which can be used after the cancer treatment or when your cancer is in remission. For this fertility preservation process to succeed you need sperm from your male partner or you can use donor sperm.
Egg freezing does not have the same reliability and success rates as getting pregnant from frozen embryos. However, this field is growing.
A drawback to these processes is that it may take time to prepare for and retrieve the eggs for freezing.
Other fertility preservation options
Other fertility preservation options may exist depending on your age, the type of cancer, and the type of cancer treatment. Check out the following:
- Because some cancer treatments cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract, doctors can take protective steps before treatment by shielding your ovaries from the cancer treatments and reducing the dose of radiation near your reproductive organs.
- Another option for fertility preservation in women involves a surgical procedure before the cancer treatment begins. Using surgery, your doctor can move your ovaries to a different region of your pelvis, outside of the radiation field. This area of the pelvis will be safe from the harmful effects of radiation, keeping your eggs safe and keeping you fertile.
- Another type of fertility preservation involves suppressing ovulation during cancer treatment. Doctors believe that by suppressing ovulation during treatment, your eggs may be protected from chemotherapy and radiation. This will allow you to get pregnant after treatment.
- Another investigation option for fertility preservation is ovarian tissue cryopreservation. The process involves surgically removing the ovarian tissue. The tissue is then frozen and stored. Later, the ovarian tissue is thawed and reattached to the ovaries with hopes that eggs may develop and hatch for conception. A key benefit of this type of fertility preservation is that it takes less than 45 minutes. Another key benefit is that the tissue may be removed quickly within a day or two, without delaying cancer treatment. This type of fertility preservation is best suited for younger women, because hormone medications won’t be necessary for the procedure. At this time, no babies have been born from this type of fertility preservation, but doctors are hopeful that it may help more women conceive one day in the near future.
Become a mom after cancer
With fertility preservation, many women are able to get pregnant and have babies after cancer treatment. If you are interested in fertility preservation options, talk to your doctor before you start cancer treatment. Some methods of fertility preservation for women can take weeks or months to complete, so it’s best to start the process as soon as possible.
- Oncofertility Consortium: How can cancer affect fertility? What can my doctor do to protect my fertility? Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation. What is Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation? What if I decide to do nothing to preserve my fertility before undergoing cancer treatment? Could I pass cancer on to my future child?
- American Society of Reproductive Medicine: Patient's Fact Sheet: Cancer and Fertility Preservation.