Cancer And Fertility Preservation - Things You Must Know

Fertility preservation is a new field of medicine that helps to preserve fertility in patients facing cancer treatment or with other conditions that threaten fertility, such as lupus, ovarian cysts, and a family history of early menopause. Fertility preservation embryo and egg freezing also offer options for healthy young women who would like to postpone starting their families until they are older.

Cancer and fertility preservation
Every day, a young woman receives a cancer diagnosis. Unlike men, who often resume sperm production within months after cancer treatment ends, a woman’s eggs are often permanently damaged after cancer treatment.

Cancer And Fertility Preservation
Freezing eggs and embryos
For those with cancer, fertility preservation options allow you to freeze your eggs (or embryos) prior to starting cancer treatment. While cancer treatment leaves many women infertile, some do go on to have children after treatment ends. If your cancer treatment might leave you infertile, ask your doctor about fertility preservation. This process may offer you a chance to have biological children after cancer treatment ends.

How to Protect your future
Fertility drops significantly by the time a woman reaches 40. So what is a young woman to do when she knows she is not ready to have children yet? Egg freezing (or embryo freezing) fertility preservation offers a young woman the ability to safely postpone pregnancy until she is ready.

Whatever the reason for choosing female fertility preservation, here is how the process works:

Your eggs can be retrieved, frozen rapidly with vitrification, and later thawed and fertilized during an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. If you are freezing embryos, your eggs are retrieved, fertilized with sperm (from your partner or donor sperm) to create healthy embryos, and then frozen.
When you are ready to start a family, your doctor will thaw the embryos and implant one or more in your uterus as part of the IVF process. Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating. However, a cancer diagnosis is even more distressing if you want to get pregnant and are worried about infertility. While cancer itself may not affect fertility, cancer treatments can often affect a woman's ability to get pregnant in the future.

Fertility preservation is a new field of medicine that helps to preserve fertility in patients with cancer or other serious conditions, such as lupus, ovarian cysts, and family history of early menopause. With the latest fertility preservation options, you can move beyond the complications of radiation or chemotherapy and still start a family.

Freezing eggs and freezing embryos prior to cancer treatment are the most tried-and-true fertility preservation options for women. To freeze embryos before cancer treatment begins, your doctor can retrieve your eggs and fertilize them with sperm to create healthy embryos. Then, the doctor can freeze and store the embryos, which can be used after the cancer treatment or when your cancer is in remission. For this fertility preservation process to succeed you need sperm from your male partner or you can use donor sperm.

Egg freezing does not have the same reliability and success rates as getting pregnant from frozen embryos. However, this field is growing. A drawback to these processes is that it may take time to prepare for and retrieve the eggs for freezing. 

Other fertility preservation options
Other fertility preservation options may exist depending on your age, the type of cancer, and the type of cancer treatment. Check out the following:
  • Because some cancer treatments cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract, doctors can take protective steps before treatment by shielding your ovaries from the cancer treatments and reducing the dose of radiation near your reproductive organs.
  • Another option for fertility preservation in women involves a surgical procedure before the cancer treatment begins. Using surgery, your doctor can move your ovaries to a different region of your pelvis, outside of the radiation field. This area of the pelvis will be safe from the harmful effects of radiation, keeping your eggs safe and keeping you fertile.
  • Another type of fertility preservation involves suppressing ovulation during cancer treatment. Doctors believe that by suppressing ovulation during treatment, your eggs may be protected from chemotherapy and radiation. This will allow you to get pregnant after treatment.
  • Another investigation option for fertility preservation is ovarian tissue cryopreservation. The process involves surgically removing the ovarian tissue. The tissue is then frozen and stored. Later, the ovarian tissue is thawed and reattached to the ovaries with hopes that eggs may develop and hatch for conception. A key benefit of this type of fertility preservation is that it takes less than 45 minutes. Another key benefit is that the tissue may be removed quickly within a day or two, without delaying cancer treatment. This type of fertility preservation is best suited for younger women because hormone medications won’t be necessary for the procedure. At this time, no babies have been born from this type of fertility preservation, but doctors are hopeful that it may help more women conceive one day in the near future.
Becoming a mom after cancer
With fertility preservation, many women are able to get pregnant and have babies after cancer treatment. If you are interested in fertility preservation options, talk to your reproductive medicine doctor before you start cancer treatment. Some methods of fertility preservation for women can take weeks or months to complete, so it’s best to start the process as soon as possible.

Fertility preservation for men
Fertility preservation for men is a new field of medicine that allows men to freeze their sperm and retain their fertility so they can still have children after cancer treatment. This process usually goes pretty smoothly.
If you or your male partner have been diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder “will we ever be able to have children?”. Fertility preservation for men is a new field of medicine that allows men to preserve their sperm and/or retain their fertility so they can still have children after cancer treatment. 

Is male fertility possible after cancer?
Many factors determine a man’s fertility potential after cancer treatment. His ability to impregnate his partner will be predicted by the following:
  • His age
  • The type of cancer
  • The type of cancer treatment
For many men, it can take several years after cancer treatment ends before healthy sperm production resumes. Other men may become permanently sterile after cancer treatment.

Not all cancers will cause infertility unless perhaps it’s testicular cancer. Rather, it is far more likely that cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation will affect a man's fertility. This is why it is important to discuss all possible fertility preservation options with a doctor before cancer treatment begins.

Fertility preservation before cancer treatment begins
Having said that, men do have a pretty easy and inexpensive way to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment begins. Quite simply, all a man has to do is donate and freeze his own sperm.

How to freeze sperms
To protect male fertility during cancer treatment, simply pay to have a sperm sample frozen at a sperm bank. Be sure to bank the sperm before cancer treatment begins because chemotherapy and radiation treatments can be harmful to sperm cells. It may be best to bank several samples of semen, with each sample taken several days apart. While this may postpone the cancer treatment for a few days, it may be beneficial later in life when it comes time to have children.

Securing the sperm sample
If your partner is unable to provide a sperm sample in his ejaculate, a doctor may be able to do a biopsy of the testicles and withdraw sperm directly from them.
Thanks to modern technology, only a few sperms are needed to achieve pregnancy. During high-tech treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), many couples are able to conceive with just one sperm.

Other exploratory fertility preservation techniques include the following:
  • Your doctor may prescribe hormonal medications to protect the testes and sperm from the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Testicular tissue may be removed before cancer treatment and then re-positioned later. This type of fertility preservation is in the research phase and would use for boys who undergo cancer treatment before puberty since they are unable to produce sperm samples.
  • During radiation treatment, your doctor can minimize the dose of radiation used. Or, your doctor can try to aim the radiation away from your reproductive organs to protect your fertility. Unfortunately, this technique may not work for young males. Radiation treatments near the pelvic region can affect a young male’s development before he reaches puberty, leading to future fertility problems.
Good news for male cancer patients
Fertility preservation for men is quite simple. Your partner might consider banking a sperm sample now since it is relatively easy and inexpensive. Later, he can choose whether to use his sperm, donate them to another individual trying to conceive, or have them disposed of. You may also be relieved to know that a man's hormone functioning and sexual functioning are often normal after cancer treatment.

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