As cancer treatments are increasingly more successful, having the life you dreamed of after cancer treatment may be linked to the decisions you make before you start.
If having a biological child of your own someday is important to you, it is essential that you have an honest conversation with your oncologist about your desire to have a child and how the cancer treatment might affect your ability to do so. What some patients and their loved ones may not realize when they are dealing with the overwhelming uncertainty and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis, is that certain cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation, while effective in treating many cancers, may result in permanent sterility.
Add to that the fact that when a woman receives a cancer diagnosis, she may not yet have even begun to think about having a family. But then, suddenly she must decide if she wants to take action to preserve the option to have a biological child later in life, or not. And of course, time is of the essence, as her oncologist may recommend starting treatment right away.
Thankfully, we live in an age where there are options, hope – and great successes. Here’s what you need to know about preserving female fertility before cancer treatment so you can help retain the option to build a family post cancer treatment.
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. However, eggs must go through a maturation process prior to having the potential to be fertilized by sperm. In a normal menstrual cycle, each month, the ovaries mature and release (ovulate) one egg which may have the potential to be fertilized by sperm. Once fertilized, an embryo is subsequently formed and then travels through the fallopian tube into the uterus, where it may implant and to develop into a pregnancy.
Of course, a wide variety of factors may impact the process of fertilization and implantation and as such, despite attempting to conceive, a pregnancy is not guaranteed. The same is true when fertilization happens via in vitro fertilization (IVF). Every egg that is retrieved may not be capable of producing a pregnancy. Hence the goal of egg freezing involves preserving a
sufficient number of eggs to maximize a woman’s chance of reaching her reproductive goals. Once you have made the decision to freeze your eggs, the process can typically be completed in less than a month.
Your fertility specialist will meet with you to discuss your goals, perform diagnostic testing, and formulate treatment recommendations. Some patients choose to freeze unfertilized eggs, others have them fertilized with their spouse, partner or donor sperm prior to freezing. Your fertility specialist will help you determine the treatment plan that best suits your needs.
The first step in the egg freezing process is to stimulate your body into maturing as many eggs as possible. This is done through a series of simple injections that we will show you how to do at home. Over the course of two weeks, while you do the injections, you’ll also visit your
doctor’s office for intermittent ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor the growth of the eggs. When the time is right, the fertility specialist will retrieve the eggs during an in-office procedure.
On the day of the egg retrieval, your fertility doctor will perform a minimally invasive, office- based procedure. Given that conscious sedation is used, there is typically minimal pain or discomfort during the process. Upon completion, your fertility specialist will be able to tell you how many eggs were retrieved. Those eggs are then assessed by a team of embryologists who will examine each egg using a high-powered microscope to determine how many are healthy and able to be frozen via vitrification.
Egg freezing opens a world of opportunities and options for women. Frozen eggs can remain viable for more than 20 years. It allows you to stop the biological clock and retain the ability to have the baby of your dreams.