A cancer diagnosis can happen at any age. Cancer in a reproductive-aged male or female can be particularly traumatic. Each year, more than 140,000 people are diagnosed with cancer during their childbearing years. While modern medicine gives young adults a better chance at surviving cancer and other serious diseases than ever before, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery bring up many reproductive questions:
- Will my cancer treatment have any short- or long-term effect on my ability to have children?
- Can anything be done to prevent infertility before I start cancer treatment?
- Will any of these options to preserve my fertility interfere with my cancer treatment?
- Should my cancer doctor refer me to a fertility specialist before treatment?
- How long should I wait to try to start a pregnancy after cancer treatment?
In addition, fertility preservation is not limited to oncology patients who will face chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment. Patients requiring bone marrow, stem cell transplants, and even some with rheumatic diseases may face the decision of fertility sparing options.
Fortunately, there are steps patients can take to help safeguard their fertility. These include sperm banking for men and adolescent boys; eggs and embryo banking for women, before undergoing cancer treatment.
Before starting cancer treatment, it is important to address any concerns regarding your future fertility with your physician. An open discussion will help you plan your cancer treatment and assure a prompt referral to the reproductive fertility specialist so you can explore your fertility-sparing options.
The focus of these fertility-sparing treatments is to store sperm, eggs or embryos before you undergo treatment for cancer. Once the cancer treatment is completed and you are healthy again, the stored sperm, eggs or embryos are available for use.
At the Indiana Fertility Institute, we offer counseling, treatment and support to discuss:
Sperm banking (sperm freezing) is done before medical treatment begins. Semen samples are typically produced through masturbation in a private collection room. For males who have no sperm in their ejaculate—due either to an obstruction or testicular dysfunction—there is the option of undergoing surgical sperm retrieval. Once collected, the sperm is assessed, processed, cryopreserved (frozen) and stored at the Indiana Fertility Institute’s laboratory for future use by IUI or IVF.
Embryo banking (embryo freezing) involves harvesting a woman’s egg(s) and inseminating the eggs with sperm in the laboratory to produce an embryo for future use through IVF. This process takes about two weeks. The resulting embryos are cryopreserved (frozen) and stored until you are in complete remission and healthy enough to become pregnant. Collaboration with your oncology physician is critical.
Oocyte (Egg) Banking
This is one of the newest innovations in the field of assisted reproduction and has resulted in more than 2,000 births worldwide. Similar to embryo banking, egg banking also takes about two weeks to complete. The resulting eggs are cryopreserved through a process called vitrification and stored until you are healthy enough to become pregnant.
This new technology potentially allows women to bank eggs without having a significant other and alleviates issues of immediately identifying a sperm source. Again, collaboration with the treating physician is critical.