By Laura Garrido BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 10/28/2014

Thanks to technological developments in medicine, more and more people are getting over cancer, and it’s possible to become a mother after getting over it. With this article we would like to mention the existing possibilities of preserving female fertility before starting a treatment with medicines, which may damage ovaries and prevent maternity once the woman has got over cancer.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.

How does cancer affect fertility?

Regardless of the type of cancer that has been diagnosed, the ovaries, within which there’s a constant division, may be damaged by the exposition to the medicines of the oncology treatment.

This means, that even if the cancer may not be gynaecological, after the treatment, the patient may recover the menstrual cycle but the eggs that have been damaged may not result in embryos or may result in unhealthy babies.

With a cancer diagnosis, the survival of the patient is the priority. What we intended to do with this article, is presenting the existing possibilities related with future maternity, and above all clarifying that the moment to visit the clinic is as soon as it’s known that a treatment with medicines that may affect fertility is needed.

When to visit a fertility clinic

The answer is now. Time is a key factor if we mean to plan a future maternity, which must be done without delay. As it is natural, the first reaction is to begin as soon as possible with the oncology treatment.

Fertility clinics acknowledge the urgency of these cases, since oncology patients are given an appointment that very same day or the next one, regardless of the waiting list that the clinic may have. Regarding the economic factor, there are funding possibilities that help carrying out the urgent treatment.

Treatment

The steps that must be followed at the clinic will vary depending on the type of tumor, as well as the division speed of the tumor.

Hormonal cancer

If its evolution is hormone-dependent, it means that the tumor is influenced by the body hormones.

In these cases, hyperstimulation is contraindicated or chemotherapy can’t wait, a puncture is performed to extract the oocyte or the two oocytes that were naturally getting ready to be fertilised, and then they are frozen.

Non-hormonal cancer

If it isn’t hormone-dependent and the treatment with medicines can wait for a month, the clinic will carry out an ovarian stimulation process, as soon as the patient has the period. Eggs are extracted in 12-14 days, frozen in an extremely quick way through vitrification, and then kept until it’s the right moment to carry on with the idea of maternity.

Ovarian cortex cryopreservation

Another option would be freezing the ovarian cortex. This consists in extracting a functional fragment of the ovary and freezing it, in the hope of reinserting it when the woman has got over the cancer.

It is also possible to mature the eggs in vitro, even though this last technique is still being studied and it hasn’t been perfected yet.

If cancer was diagnosed to prepubescent girls, who haven’t had the period yet, they cannot go through ovarian stimulation. In these cases ovarian cortex is frozen, in the hope of achieving a future pregnancy with those immature oocytes.

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Authors and contributors

 Laura Garrido
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO) of Seville, Spain. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Experience at IVF, andrology, and general analysis laboratories. Embryologist specialized in Assisted Reproduction. More information
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