The most common cancers in girls and young women are lymphoma, leukemia, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, or gynecologic cancers. These cancers are most commonly treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of both. The location, dose, and type of treatment can impact future fertility after treatment.
Likewise, cancer in men that requires treatment by chemotherapy or radiation can affect your ability to make sperm or impact the ability of sperm to fertilize the egg. In addition, some types of cancer can lead to damage or removal of the reproductive organs.
Before beginning cancer treatments, a number of viable options can be available for couples facing cancer: embryo cryopreservation, egg cryopreservation, and sperm cryopreservation.
To preserve an embryo, you will first undergo an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. You will be given hormones to stimulate the production of eggs. These eggs are gently removed and combined with sperm in the laboratory. Once fertilized, the embryos are usually cultured and then frozen.
Some women or couples choose to preserve eggs rather than embryos for personal or religious reasons. This process still involves IVF, and the eggs that are removed are frozen without being fertilized. After your cancer treatment, the eggs that survive the freeze-thaw process can then be fertilized in the laboratory, and the developing embryo placed in your uterus.
Collecting sperm to freeze can be a simple, noninvasive procedure. Often you can collect a specimen at home or you will be shown to a private room, asked to masturbate to orgasm, and collect your semen in a special container. Once collected, the sample is mixed with cryoprotectant liquids to protect the sperm against damage during the freezing and thawing process. Sperm collected this way can be stored indefinitely.
Additional options are available for men who are unwilling to collect a semen sample via masturbation or unable to generate a sample for a variety of other reasons, including spinal injuries or tract blockage. Talk to your doctor about additional options that may be right for you.
If you or a loved one are facing cancer and have questions about how it may impact your fertility, call ARCH to set up a consultation to ensure you have the information and options you need to protect your future family.