Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can rock your world, but it doesn’t have to destroy your fertility. Women of childbearing age sense that their lives are on the line, but also fear their chances for having families may be compromised. With advances in therapies to combat breast cancer, survivors are living long, full lives, and many want to create or expand their families after cancer treatment.
In many cases, the cancer treatment destroys not only the disease, but a woman’s reproductive system as well. By working with their oncologists and consulting with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE), or fertility specialist, women facing breast cancer treatment can take steps to preserve their fertility.
Several options exist for women who wish to have children after breast cancer treatment. Your oncologist and RE can work together to determine the best course of action given your specific case. The RE can speed up the cycle timing and complete the preservation process in a few weeks, only minimally delaying chemotherapy and other treatments. Understanding your options will allow you to make an informed decision about cancer treatment and family planning.
Fertility preservation may include:
Until recently, oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) wasn’t a choice. The female egg is largely comprised of water, which made freezing and thawing difficult. A revolutionary process called vitrification eliminates the formation of ice crystals that destroys the fragile egg cells. In the past, the only options for cryopreservation included sperm and fertilized embryos. Now, fertility specialists can freeze eggs before fertilization occurs.
This rapid freezing technique means that younger patients or those without partners can store their eggs until the time is right to begin a family. To freeze your eggs, your RE will stimulate the ovaries with fertility medication to produce multiple eggs during one cycle. Your physician would then retrieve the eggs, freezing them for future use, months or years down the road.
For female patients in relationships, embryo cryopreservation may provide the best option for fertility preservation. Frozen embryos have been used as part of assisted reproductive technology (ART) for decades, resulting in successful outcomes for many couples. In fact, research indicates that pregnancy rates with frozen embryos rival those of cycles that utilize fresh embryos.
Embryo cryopreservation works much the same as a standard in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. After stimulating your ovaries, your doctor would remove the eggs and embryologists in the lab would fertilize the eggs using sperm from either your partner or a donor candidate. Once the embryos develop, they would be immediately frozen and stored until you were ready to begin the transfer process.
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