Cancer is becoming more prevalent, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting about 14 million people learn they have cancer each year. Fortunately, technological advancements have made it possible to live a happy and healthy life after overcoming the disease. One of the most hopeful of these advancements is the opportunity to have a family after treatment.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a family, oncofertility is an important aspect of treatment you and your partner should fully understand. This progressive aspect of cancer treatment allows patients to retain the hope they need to overcome the disease. Having cancer should not mean you cannot start a family after treatment, and through oncofertility, patients can think about the future in a positive way while they get healthy.
What is Oncofertility?
Oncofertility is a specialization that combines oncology treatments with fertility support to help cancer survivors maintain their ability to reproduce. Many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, can negatively affect a man or woman’s reproductive ability but, there is still hope for growing your family.
Fortunately, modern science has developed a number of techniques that, when applied correctly, can reduce the chances of infertility in both female and male cancer survivors. When you talk with your oncologist and reproductive endocrinologist about oncofertility, you will discuss these options and decide which will work best for your particular situation.
Who is Affected by Cancer-Related Infertility?
Cancer treatments can have a negative impact on the reproductive systems of all patients, including both men and women. Women may experience ovarian damage, genetically damaged eggs, ovarian failure and early menopause. Men can experience a reduction or cessation of sperm production and testosterone secretion.
It is essential to discuss oncofertility with your doctors as soon as you receive a cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment. If you have already started treatment, talk to your doctors as soon as possible to discuss what you can do to reduce the risk of infertility. When your doctors know that preserving your fertility is important to you, they can work with you to help you achieve that goal.
What Treatments Exist?
There are several fertility preservation techniques doctors can employ to increase your chances of starting a family after cancer treatment.
Among the simplest procedures is shielding, the process of covering genitals with a lead apron during radiation therapy to reduce the ovaries and testes’ exposure to ionizing radiation. Another minimally invasive treatment is gonadotropin agonist injections, which minimize ovary or testes activity during chemotherapy. There are also more invasive surgery methods such as ovarian transportation, which involves physically moving the ovaries from the body in cases where pelvic radiation is necessary.
Cryopreservation or the process of freezing eggs, embryos, sperm and ovarian tissue for use after treatment is another way to preserve reproductive ability in patients. When you choose one of these methods, it may be possible for you and a partner to have a child later in life using IVF or using a gestational carrier if the uterus has been surgically removed.
Finally, using an egg donor or a sperm donor may enable you to preserve fertility after cancer treatment. As these treatments involve using donated reproductive material, they may be effective even in patients who have already begun or completed cancer treatment.
Talk to Your Doctor
Recently, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommended, “As part of education and informed consent before cancer therapy, health care providers…should address the possibility of infertility with patients during their reproductive years.”
For those never having received this somber diagnosis, it’s hard to understand what a challenge it is. Adding worries about fertility preservation to an already complex situation can be challenging which is why it is crucial to seek the assistance of compassionate, knowledgeable medical professionals. The professionals at Red Rock Fertility Center have extensive oncofertility experience and provide patients with knowledge about treatments and hope for the future.