A cancer diagnosis is devastating and very scary no matter what the circumstances. As you prepare for treatment and give your all to battling this disease your future fertility is likely low-priority. But, depending on where you at in your life, considerations for your fertility and goals for having children in the future are part of your treatment plan.
Both men and women risk irreparable damage to their reproductive system while undergoing treatment for certain cancers. As patients review their treatment options they are generally focused on overcoming the cancer and not thinking about the future in terms of having children. Preserving your fertility may not seem as urgent as just getting through your treatment but your oncologist understands that one day soon you may just want to start a family of your own. Know that you do have options.
Cancer Treatment and Your Fertility
Not all cancer treatments affect your fertility. Obviously those that treat cancer of the reproductive system that may involve removal of reproductive organs will directly impact your fertility. Other types of cancers that require fertility disrupting treatment are those involving hormone-based medications, chemotherapy and radiation to the abdominal and pelvic region of the body.
Understanding the long-term implications of cancer treatment on your fertility isn’t always possible. Depending on your type of treatment, length of your treatment, your age and your current fertility status cancer treatment may cause temporary fertility complications or could leave you permanently infertile.
The good news for those being treated for cancer is that advancements in reproductive technology make it possible to preserve your fertility. Even if you aren’t in a place in your life where you are envisioning having children, it’s good to protect your options.
When to Consider Fertility Preservation
Anyone facing treatment for cancer that could impact future fertility, whether permanently or temporarily should absolutely discuss fertility preservation with their physician. After a cancer diagnosis and prior to undergoing treatment, it’s imperative to understand what threat treatment poses to your reproductive future. Your oncologist will certainly advise you, but seeking out advice from a fertility expert is prudent.
Anyone who is of childbearing age should review their options for fertility preservation. This includes adolescents, those who aren’t with a partner and those who already have children. Relationship status changes and cancer impacts the desire for more children in a good number of patients.
Fertility Preservation Options
Fertility preservation is available to both men and women. You can cryogenically preserve sperm and eggs for future use or for those with partners and definite plans for children embryo cryopreservation is available. Here are the types of fertility preservation for you to consider.
Fertility Preservation for Women
- Freezing Embryos: As an IVF procedure, your doctor removes your mature eggs, and the lab fertilizes them with sperm. You may use your partner’s sperm or donated sperm. The lab then screens the embryos for viability and preserves them cryogenically. When you decide the time is right your embryo is defrosted and implanted in your uterus.
- Freezing Eggs: Following hormone stimulation the doctor freezes your mature eggs. When you decide to pursue pregnancy, the lab fertilizes your egg and implants the resulting embryo in your uterus. This method preserves your egg reserve and protects your eggs from damage due to cancer treatment.
- Ovarian Tissue Freezing: During a laparoscopic procedure the doctor removes all or part of one ovary. The tissue is cut into strips, cryogenically preserving and storing until treatment for cancer is complete. Then your physician transplants the tissue back into the pelvic region where it should begin to function. Your doctor can perform this procedure before or after puberty.
- Ovarian Transposition: This method helps young women and preadolescent girls who are undergoing pelvic radiation. Done as an outpatient procedure ovarian transposition moves the ovaries out of the way of the targeted area. This technique isn’t always successful as the ovaries may fall back into place on their own, radiation scatter may cause damage and the ovaries are not always protected.
- Ovarian Suppression: There are hormone drugs which cause a temporary menopause and are sometimes used during treatment for cancer to preserve a woman’s fertility. The goal of this treatment is to effectively shut down the ovaries and prevent ovulation in an attempt to preserve the quality of the eggs. There are some side effects which are unpleasant. Once the treatment is over the patient resumes a normal menstrual cycle. This approach is a bit questionable and ovarian suppression may not provide full protection.
Fertility Preservation for Men
Men who undergo treatment for testicular cancer or require chemotherapy or radiation to their pelvic region should consider freezing their sperm. The process of cryogenically preserving and banking sperm is relatively uncomplicated. The man provides one or more samples of ejaculate. The clinic tests the sperm for count, motility (movement) and morphology (shape), freezing viable sperm cells for future use.
There are procedures for men who are unable to provide the sample on their own.
Understand Your Treatment and Options
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and are unsure of the side effects of your treatment and the impact on your fertility, you should speak with your oncologist. Assess your personal risk and decide how you wish to proceed in terms of preserving your opportunity for biological children one day. Make an appointment for a consultation with a fertility specialist, so you are aware of your options. A fertility specialist is your best advocate for your future family.
LA IVF understands your concerns and offers solutions. Contact our office for more information on preserving your fertility before your cancer treatment.