By Jessica McLaughlin, MD
When a person is facing a new cancer diagnosis, having children may not seem like a top priority. However, an important part of the treatment plan includes evaluating how this cancer treatment can potentially affect other aspects of life including fertility. As reproductive endocrinologists, we are a resource to discuss the implications of cancer treatment on future fertility and to offer options for fertility preservation. Chemotherapy and radiation can affect the ovaries and are associated with reproductive risk. This may mean abnormal periods in the future or infertility.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine updated their guidelines in 2019 for fertility preservation in patients undergoing cancer treatment. For females, available strategies for fertility preservation include freezing eggs, freezing embryos (fertilized eggs), ovarian tissue banking and ovarian suppression with GnRH analogs (a medication that puts the ovary in a quiet state during chemotherapy). In the event that pelvic radiation is planned, the ovaries can be moved to a site away from the radiation exposure. Egg and embryo freezing do require in vitro fertilization (IVF). If a patient needs fertility preservation before treatment, the IVF stimulation can be started as soon as possible regardless of the phase of menstrual cycle (immediate start IVF). Compared to conventional stimulations, immediate start stimulations have similar embryo and pregnancy outcomes and allow IVF cycles to occur in the shortest amount of time possible. Men diagnosed with cancer have the option to freeze sperm.
Fertility preservation counseling is just one component of patient care during a difficult time. Just having the discussion is important and we will continue to be a resource to you. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in fertility preservation options, don’t hesitate to call us at 843-883-5800 to make an appointment.