Fertility preservation

test tubes

When a young person hears from her oncologist that she has cancer, it is very likely that before the meeting is over, she will also hear that the treatment will leave her infertile. The infertility is caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Nearly ten percent of the 1.5 million diagnosed with cancer last year were in the midst of their reproductive years.

The good news doctors can share with their patients is that the technique for harvesting and maintaining viable eggs has improved vastly in recent years. According to an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Jani Jensen, MD, Mayo Clinic reproductive endocrinologist writes, “Fertility preservation is still an emerging discipline, but rapid advances in technology in the last several years are now providing new options for patients.”

The article reviews technologies available to men and women facing infertility due to cancer treatment. Freezing sperm is a viable technique, as is freezing eggs. “Cryopreservation of eggs used to be considered the Holy Grail of therapy, not just for cancer patients, but for any woman who wanted to halt the biological clock,” says Dr. Jensen. “Since 2004 there have been thousands of babies born worldwide from frozen eggs.”

Embryo freezing remains popular. “Embryos are hardy, and can survive the freezing and thawing process better than individual eggs,” Dr. Jensen said. For a young person, unmarried and not thinking about a partner, this may not be realistic or desirable.

The current medical challenge is preserving the fertility in prepubescent cancer patients. “There’s promising work emerging that’s striving to prompt the maturation of this tissue in the laboratory. The hope is that the tissue could be used later in patients’ lives to create pregnancies.”

But none of this matters if doctors don’t discuss these treatments with their patients. Guidelines are being produced to help everyone know their options.

Source: Mayo Clinic, ScienceDaily


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