Fertility preservation is recommended for women who have been diagnosed with cancer or face the loss of fertility for medical reasons. This process differs from “social” or “elective” egg freezing where a medical concern is not the patient’s motivation for the procedure. Preserving fertility through egg freezing offers women true peace of mind – knowing that regardless of their egg quality as they undergo treatment or surgery, they will be able to preserve their future reproductive potential.
What is fertility preservation?
Fertility preservation, also sometimes referred to as egg freezing, provides an option for women who wish to defer pregnancy due to medical concerns. These women will undergo ovarian stimulation and oocyte (egg) retrieval to obtain eggs that can be frozen and thawed at a later time when the patient is ready to have a child.
Oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) has recently seen higher success rates, rivaling standard IVF methods. Approximately 20 frozen eggs is considered a reasonable number to freeze as insurance to generate a pregnancy. With the use of cryoprotectants and cryotools, in combination with rapid freezing techniques (vitrification) and fertilization with ICSI, pregnancy rates using frozen and thawed oocytes are becoming standardized.
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When is fertility preservation recommended?
- Women who are facing a recent cancer diagnosis and have not yet begun treatment
- Women with a family history of early (premature) menopause
- Women who are facing surgery that impacts their reproductive system
- Women with medical conditions like endometriosis where fertility is potentially impacted
Fertility Preservation for Cancer Patients
The fact that a patient has just been diagnosed with cancer or survived the acute or extended phase of coping with cancer distinguishes him or her from other fertility patients. Patients facing gonadotoxic treatments (i.e. chemotherapy or radiation) have important needs in preserving fertility that reproductive specialists try to protect. Fertility doctors play important roles in helping to preserve the reproductive capacities of young cancer patients. The first steps involve developing and using procedures to preserve gametes, embryos, and gonadal tissue before treatment begins. Next, fertility specialists will assist cancer survivors in using preserved gametes and tissue.
Variations in type of cancer, time available to onset of treatment, age, partner status, type and dosage of any chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and the risk of sterility with a given treatment regimen require that each case have its own treatment strategy. A key issue at the time of treatment of the cancer is whether it is medically feasible to obtain gametes or gonadal tissue for storage and later use. Questions about the patient’s health and prognosis also will arise when the patient is later deciding whether to reproduce. A consultation with the patient’s oncologist is essential in such cases for a successful outcome.
How to Get Started with Fertility Preservation
When appropriate, counseling by a qualified mental health professional and genetic counselor will be offered. We counsel patients and survivors on the risks of gonadotoxic treatment on fertility and the options for and risks of preserving fertility and reproducing after cure or remission. If you are interested in fertility preservation, please contact the specialists at Chelsea Fertility of New York City.