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According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1,688,780 Americans will receive the dreaded cancer diagnosis in 2017.
In addition to understanding what this diagnosis will mean to their health and well-being, men and women of reproductive age faced with cancer also need to know the impact of cancer treatment on their ability to have children. Treatment can cure their cancer diagnosis, but might simultaneously dash their dreams of having a family.
Getting a cancer diagnosis is both terrifying and life-altering. First and foremost, people want to know how they can be treated and cured. Early detection, prompt care and advances in treatment have contributed to significant increases in remission and cure for many types of cancers. But often the treatment, depending on its type and duration, as well as the location of the cancer, will impair the reproductive organs and the sperm and eggs they create.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommend, when possible, at-risk patients be referred to a fertility preservation specialist prior to starting cancer treatment. This does not always happen. Family physicians and oncologists need more education about how to counsel patients so they can get timely and accurate details.
At HRC Fertility, we are committed to helping those who want to preserve their fertility before undergoing treatment that might compromise it. Here are some of the ways they can do that.
For adult men, it seems relatively simple. They must produce a sperm sample to be frozen, stored and then thawed for when they are ready to have a child. It’s more complicated, however, for male children who have not yet reached puberty. Testicular tissue freezing and sperm aspiration are both experimental procedures. Only a small number of patients have used these techniques, so it’s too early to know if they will be effective.
The best option is to preserve fertility by freezing eggs (single women) or embryos (with a partner or sperm donor) prior to the initiation of chemotherapy or radiation. We can expedite egg retrieval and IVF treatment and suggest cancer patients undergo at least one cycle, no matter the type of cancer. The patient would, of course, want to get medical clearance from her doctor. If the cancer is not very aggressive, then the patient may be able to complete more cycles to store more eggs/embryos. We base medication dosage and length of treatment on their diagnosis and prognosis.
Ovarian tissue removal and freezing is experimental through a promising surgical procedure. It is being offered in a few locations in the United States, but is not widely used. Last December, a British woman gave birth using ovarian tissue frozen in childhood, so this advance looks promising.
If fertility cannot be preserved
If the unthinkable happens and there is not time to preserve your fertility, then there are options like sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy.
Light at the end of the tunnel
A cancer diagnosis is devastating. An infertility diagnosis is devastating. But we hope cancer patients can feel optimistic about their ability to preserve their fertility. Their desire for children does not need to be dashed with this frightening diagnosis.
Resources for fertility preservation