A diagnosis of cancer is a life-altering event. It comes as a shock, particularly to patients in their reproductive years, and there are often a number of urgent decisions to make. As a patient prepares for cancer treatment, it can be appropriate to consider whether your future fertility is likely to be affected. If so, there are new options for fertility preservation that may be worth considering.
Men have the option of freezing a few semen specimens prior to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Many men retain or regain their ability to make sperm after cancer treatment, but this quick and inexpensive precaution is well established and readily available.
Whether a woman’s eggs are damaged by cancer treatment depends on the patient’s age (young girls are less likely to be affected) and the type of treatment. If your doctor thinks that the treatment is likely to affect your eggs, the best way to protect them is to undergo egg harvesting prior to cancer treatment. This course of action requires 3-4 weeks to plan and carry out. As in In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), women take fertility medications by injection for 10 to 14 days and have a small outpatient surgery to retrieve the eggs. Your fertility specialist will communicate with your cancer care providers to be sure you are healthy enough to undergo such a procedure and that this delay will not affect the success of your cancer treatment. Your health is our number one priority.
Our ability to freeze eggs successfully is an enormous, recent, break-through opportunity for young women. Vitrification is an ultra-rapid method of freezing eggs for future use. It has only been routinely successful for 2-3 years. Prior to the advance of egg freezing, we were able to freeze embryos (eggs fertilized by sperm) with excellent outcomes, but young women without male partners were at a loss for choosing sperm to inseminate their eggs. Fortunately, identifying a male partner or sperm donor is no longer necessary.
Another consideration is the fact that ovarian stimulation frequently raises a woman’s estrogen levels. Some cancers (commonly breast cancer) grow in response to estrogen. We now have ovarian stimulation protocols that take this into consideration and egg retrievals can be carried out successfully without elevating your estrogen level.
If these treatment strategies are not appropriate for you, there are other options to consider. Suppression of menstrual cycles with oral contraceptive pills or a medication called Lupron can help preserve your eggs for the future. Women who begin radiation treatment in the pelvis can have their ovaries shielded from the treatment and laparoscopic surgery is available to alter the natural location of the ovaries and decrease their exposure.
When you or a friend or family member is faced with an overwhelming diagnosis, we at ACRM want to help you consider your fertility options. A short consultation appointment will allow you to feel informed and take control of your fertility future by gaining access to the most recent advances in care.
For more information or to schedule an appointmet with Dr. Carpenter please call 678.841.1079 or click here.