Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most devastating events in a person's life. Each year, 150,000 Americans under the age of 45 are diagnosed with cancer. The survival rates for these patients is now approaching 80%. Although successful, these invasive treatments (chemotherapy, surgery and radiation) can lead to premature ovarian failure or the arrest of sperm production and subsequent infertility. Fortunately, there are now more fertility preservation options available than ever before.
Cancer patient fertility preservation options include, but are not limited to:
It is the goal of Arizona Center for Fertility Studies to work with you in order to discover the perfect option for you and to make your dream of becoming a parent a reality.
Cryopreservation is the process of freezing embryos, sperm or eggs and storing them in specialized tanks filled with liquid nitrogen. Tissues stored in liquid nitrogen can be safely maintained for long periods of time, and successfully thawed.
With new advances in reproductive medicine, it is now possible to cryopreserve the female egg (oocyte), as successfully as it has been to cryopreserve sperm. Egg freezing, known as vitrification or rapid freezing, is a new and mostly experimentally technology that has been shown to be highly effective in preliminary research. There are now a number of babies born with the use of egg vitrification technology; and at Arizona Center for Fertility Studies, we have had good results with vitrification of eggs. To date, there have been no increase in birth defects related to this process. Survival rates for eggs (oocytes) can reach as high as 85% and pregnancy rates as high as 65%, depending on the woman's age. Pregnancy rates with egg vitrification, with subsequent thawing and fertilization, should be similar to success rates with that of frozen-thawed embryos. Freezing of sperm, which has been available for many years, is very successful.
Alternatively, it is possible to retrieve your eggs, fertilize them to create embryos (In-Vitro Fertilization) and cryopreserve them until you are ready to attempt pregnancy. This can be accomplished by using husband/partner or donor sperm. Sperm can also be retrieved prior to treatment and cryo preserved until needed. Sperm do extremely well with the freeze-thaw process.
When your cancer treatment is successfully completed and you get medical clearance to attempt pregnancy, Arizona Center for Fertility Studies can talk with you and guide you through the available options based upon your unique situations.
Alternatives to egg freezing are still very preliminary. Harvesting a strip of ovary by laparoscopy prior to cancer treatment and freezing the tissue until after successful treatment with subsequent transplant has only been done with limited success. A recent report of residual cancer cells in frozen ovarian strips has raised serious concerns about the risk of reintroducing cancer into a patient who has finished successful treatment and has a cure.
Since some cancers may be estrogen sensitive it is not recommended to stimulate egg production with fertility medications that can further raise estrogen levels. An available option is to harvest immature eggs from the ovary without hormonal stimulation, or with limited stimulation and then grow the eggs in the laboratory until they are mature, a process called in-vitro maturation (IVM), and then have them undergo egg vitrification or fertilization to produce embryos for cryopreservation. Results with this option are still preliminary.
If you have recently been diagnosed as having cancer and are contemplating treatment or are a cancer survivor, we strongly recommend that you contact a reproductive medicine specialist as soon as possible to discuss your options. This is essential in order to do any of the above mentioned options. Especially for women, based on their reproductive cycle, we need a two week period of time from day one of your menses, in order to maximally stimulate the ovaries for multiple egg production for either egg freezing (vitrification) or embryo production. Sperm can be obtained at any time, ideally after 2-3 days of abstinence. Often, your oncologist will want to begin treatment immediately, so it is very important not to delay your call. Once your cancer treatment is successful, you can then look forward to a hopefully brighter reproductive future.
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