Fertility and Cancer: What Are Your Options?
Getting diagnosed with cancer, going through treatment and becoming a cancer survivor is life-changing. Coming to terms with your new normal and letting your body recover takes time and strength. So, it’s hard to think about your fertility in addition to everything else you are going through. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your fertility concerns early in the process because there are many factors that go into deciding your future choices. New advances are giving hope, and options, to patients who want to have their own biological children.
How cancer treatments can affect your fertility depends on many things. The type of treatment you receive, your age and your current fertility status are all factors. Some people might be temporarily infertile, while others have permanent infertility. Your doctor can help estimate your individual risk. The most common types of treatments that cause infertility include surgery that involves removal of the reproductive organs, certain types of chemotherapy and radiation treatment to the abdomen and pelvis.
Freezing Your Eggs
Egg freezing is a method used to save a woman’s ability to have a baby in the future. Eggs harvested from your ovaries are frozen, unfertilized, and stored for later use. A frozen egg can be thawed, combined with sperm in a lab and transferred into your uterus with in-vitro fertilization.
The foremost concern is to effectively treat your cancer, but before you start treatment, there may be time for egg freezing. First, you’ll take synthetic hormones for about two weeks to stimulate your ovaries to grow multiple eggs to maturity simultaneously. You’ll have blood tests and ultrasound exams to monitor your hormone levels and the development of follicles (the housing unit for the egg).
Then, you’ll undergo an egg retrieval under IV sedation. An ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina and a guidewire and a needle is then inserted into each of the follicles to collect the eggs.
Finally, after your eggs are harvested, they’re frozen for future use. Embryo freezing is also an option in cases where you have a male partner. The process is the same for retrieving the eggs; then the doctor will fertilize the eggs with your chosen sperm before freezing them. Since current technology has advanced to the point where egg freezing has similar success rates to embryo freezing, egg freezing is usually recommended.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and it’s important to be aware of everything that can affect cancer patients who are going through treatment. If women, or couples, want to have children or want to have the option to have their own biological children in the future, freezing your eggs (or embryos) can give you hope for the future.