By Cristina Mestre Ferrer BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 01/27/2015

Being mother after having gone through cancer is not an utopia or an exceptional case. Thanks to the advances in reproductive medicine of the last years, these brave women have been able to achieve pregnancy.

Usually, cancer doesn’t affect fertility directly. It’s the treatment, be it chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the one that provokes infertility. Most of women don’t recover their usual ovarian cycle, and the ones that are able to ovulate, produce bad quality eggs.

Fertility and treatments

After diagnosing cancer, oncologists must inform about how fertility is affected. As long as cancer doesn’t depend on hormones and the woman can wait 10-15 days to start the treatment, she’ll be recommended to go through an ovarian stimulation to preserve fertility through egg vitrification. If the woman has a partner and both wish it, an IVF can be performed with those extracted eggs and cryopreserve the embryos.

Sadly, it’s not always possible to go through an ovarian stimulation. In this case there’s always the option of cryopreserving ovarian tissue.

How is cryopreservation carried out?

A biopsy is performed to extract tissue from the ovarian cortex, which is the area of the ovary where the primordial follicles can be found (cellular structures that have the oocyte in their interior). This tissue is vitrified and subsequently, once the woman has got over the illness, it’s transplanted, recovering ovarian function.

Eggs and embryo freezing

In some cases, ovarian function is not recovered naturally and administrating hormones for the ovarian stimulation is required, just like it’s done in every assisted reproduction treatment. Even though there are many babies born thanks to this technique, it’s still considered an experimental technique.

Another method used is the ovarian transposition. Through surgery, one or two ovaries are moved, to displace them away from the area that is going to receive the ionized radiation. There aren’t many cases, but the results are promising.

It’s necessary to study specifically which is the best option for each case. If none of the treatments above could be performed and ovarian function is not recovered, a fertility treatment with egg donation can be carried out. If the woman presents irreversible damage in the uterus or hysterectomy, she can turn to surrogacy. There are many ways to have children after cancer.

Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information