Cancer treatments can be harsh on the body and they often put the patients at a great risk of jeopardizing their fertility. But you don’t have to risk your future parenthood because of chemo or radiotherapy, as fertility preservation is cancer patients is totally possible now.
The practice of successful fertility preservation has been around for two decades. It has provided cancer survivors with the ability to successfully store their fertility clinically.
It is universally proven that cancer treatments negatively affect fertility resulting in temporary complications or permanent sterility.
Fertility preservation for females with cancer
Women undergoing cancer therapy have can preserve their fertility in the following ways:
Egg freezing or oocyte cryopreservation allows you to lock your fertility before cancer treatments by freezing your eggs for future use.
Normally, it is advisable to freeze your egg before the age of 35, as fertility in women is known to gradually decline after.
The process starts with ovarian screening, which involves a blood test to estimate the possible yield of eggs. The ovaries are then stimulated for 8-10 days and the eggs are carefully extracted under sedation. This is a sophisticated process and you must only go to a qualified specialist for oocyte freezing.
It can be an expensive option so it is useful to weigh in all the pros and cons and discuss with a fertility specialist to understand if egg freezing is right for you.
Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation
Cancer is even harder on younger girls, who haven’t even reached puberty yet. In such cases, it is not possible to stimulate their ovaries or retrieve any eggs.
However, it is possible to store a part of the ovarian tissue itself, including the eggs. A woman at birth already has all the eggs that will be released during her lifetime; once she hits puberty, the eggs start getting released, one at a time.
Al Matrooshi, a 24-year-old woman from Dubai gave birth to a baby from her frozen ovarian tissue. Her ovarian tissue was frozen when she was 9 years old because she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer.
To ensure no damage, before the chemotherapy, her right ovary was removed and frozen.
This involves preserving the outer layer of the ovary that contains a lot of immature eggs which is surgically removed, and frozen.
Fertility preservation for males with cancer
When it comes to fertility preservation in males, it is extremely straightforward.
Cancer treatments in men can reduce their sperm count and motility, by affecting their DNA and leaving them infertile.
Men wishing to have babies in future, are usually recommended sperm freezing or cryopreservation before any form of cancer treatment. It is an extremely effective and inexpensive way of preserving fertility.
The process involves screening the patient for infections followed by the collection of the sample.
A single sample produces 5-6 vials of sperm which are then studied and separately stored in liquid nitrogen and frozen.
Apart from cryopreservation, most of the options for men are clinically experimental.
One such option is a G-CSF, a drug founded by the University of Texas, which restores sperm production in men who have undergone radiation and chemotherapy. More research is needed in this direction before such drugs can become available for use.
Embryo freezing refers to the process of fertilizing the egg and preserving the embryo for future use.
Studies have proven that frozen embryos are as good as fresh ones, and may even provide a higher chance of conception.
If you already have a partner, embryo freezing is an excellent method to keep the possibility of parenthood. Instead of storing your individual gametes, you may discuss with the doctor about the option of freezing the embryo instead.
Pregnancy after Cancer treatment
Cancer treatments do not affect or hinder the pregnancy as long as the fetus is not exposed to any radiotherapy.
According to the American Cancer Society, children conceived after cancer therapy are generally not affected, provided that the radiation was not in the pelvic area.
Consulting a specialist before conceiving will ensure that the preservation method is chosen according to the type of cancer and the duration of the treatment.
Cancer can be overpowering but there are a lot of options for sustaining your fertility as long as you make the choice after consultation with a qualified specialist.