Some cancer treatments – including surgeries, therapies, and medications – can cause significant changes to a woman’s hormone levels or damage her reproductive organs. These side effects can make natural pregnancy difficult, or in some cases, impossible.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer and require treatment, it’s crucial to investigate fertility preservation techniques now rather than later. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the effect of cancer on fertility and discuss ways you can safeguard your ability to have children after recovery.
How does cancer affect fertility?
Having children is one of life’s greatest blessings, so when something like cancer threatens the possibility of pregnancy, it’s worthwhile researching your fertility preservation options.
Many types of cancer make achieving a healthy and successful pregnancy challenging, and people undergoing cancer treatments may not be able to have children after recovery for one of several reasons:
• Their cancer tumor damaged a vital reproductive organ or surrounding tissue
• Their treatment included the removal of affected organs that would typically be required to have a child, such as the ovaries, cervix, or uterus
• Their treatment triggered a permanent shift in hormone levels that put them into early menopause, prohibited sex organs to function normally, or damaged nerves
Planning is the operative word when it comes to protecting your fertility before cancer treatment begins. Do not assume that your healthcare provider will explain the impact of your recovery plan on your fertility – it’s up to you to conduct your own research and take the appropriate action.
Is natural pregnancy possible after cancer treatment?
The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the type of treatment undertaken. Women that were fertile prior to treatment may recover fully after treatment. Recovery may include a return to the normal hormonal cycles that are crucial for natural pregnancy to occur.
Medical professionals often suggest waiting between six months and five years after treatment to begin trying to conceive.
Even if you were fertile before your treatment, there is a risk that natural pregnancy will not be possible post-treatment. If for example, you are scheduled to have chemo or radiation therapy in the pelvis region, you may experience a sudden onset of menopause. This hormonal change can be permanent, even if your menstrual cycle resumes.
Fertility preservation options for cancer patients
If fertility is important to you, there are steps you can take to protect it throughout your cancer journey and beyond. Let’s take a closer look at three life-giving fertility preservation options.
Cryopreservation for cancer patients
Cryopreservation is the process of freezing embryos or eggs to preserve a woman’s fertility. Cryopreservation is used by women from all walks of life – not just cancer patients.
The process involved in the collection and storage of embryos and eggs are the same, but the timing is a little different:
• Embryo collection can take as little as 2 & ½ weeks, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.
• Egg collection is usually a faster process since it doesn’t require fertilization of the eggs with sperm. The collected eggs are frozen after collection.
Here is more information about each of these two options.
What you need to know about embryo freezing
Embryo cryopreservation is the process of making and freezing the embryos but not implanting them in the uterus as is done during a conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. It initially requires the removal of mature eggs from the female which are then added to a sterile dish in a laboratory with thousands of sperm; also known as insemination of the eggs. The sperm source may be from either the female’s partner or a donor. The goal is for one of the many sperm to fertilize the egg. Once fertilized, embryos are allowed to grow 3 to 5 days until reaching a more advanced stage and then cryopreserved to be thawed & implanted at a later time.
In cases of previous IVF cycles with failed fertilization or evidence where sperm quality becomes an issue, an alternative technology may be used in lieu of simply inseminating the eggs with sperm. A single sperm is selected microscopically by a highly trained medical professional and injected directly into the egg. This micromanipulation of sperm is a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
Do keep in mind that IVF with or without ICSI do not have a 100 percent success rate. Age plays a significant role in the likelihood of pregnancy – the younger the woman, the higher the chance of a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
What you need to know about egg (oocyte) freezing
Egg freezing is another popular fertility preservation method, especially among women that do not have a partner and do not want to use donor sperm.
Also called egg banking, the egg freezing process involves the removal and freezing of eggs before they are fertilized.
When the woman wants to get pregnant, the eggs are thawed, fertilized, and implanted into the uterus.
Ovarian tissue freezing
Ovarian tissue freezing is not as common as embryo and egg freezing. The procedure involves all or one part of an ovary being removed through a minor surgery called laparoscopy. The tissue is then cut into strips and frozen until being reimplanted into the body at a later time. This option is unique in that it can be carried out both before and after puberty.
Which fertility preservation option is right for me?
Coming face-to-face with a health scare can be emotionally and physically taxing. The last thing you want to be worrying about is your future plans for a family.
If your cancer treatment puts your fertility at risk, act now. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, our cutting-edge technology can be tailored to meet your specific needs. Together, we can protect your ability to create the family you have always dreamed of having after recovery.
To find out more, get in contact with our friendly team of fertility specialists today. We’d be more than happy to answer any questions, address any concerns, and empower you to make the right choice for you and your body.