By Laura Garrido BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 02/13/2015

Thanks to technological advances in medicine, more and more women have overcome cancer and become mothers after the treatments. In this article we will analyze the possibilities of female fertility preservation before starting a cancer treatment with drugs that can damage the ovaries and prevent motherhood.

No matter the type of diagnosed cancer, the ovaries, which are constantly dividing, might be damaged due to their exposal to the drugs administered during cancer treatment. This means that, even though the cancer is not gynecological, menstruation after the cancer treatment can be recovered but the damaged eggs may not be able to become embryos.

When to go to an assisted reproduction clinic after the diagnosis of cancer

The answer to this question is: immediately. Time is the key and if you would like to plan a future pregnancy, you should do it without delay. Naturally, the cancer treatment should start as soon as possible, so the reproduction clinics make an appointment for the cancer patients on the same day or the next, regardless of the waiting list for those clinics. Regarding the economic issue, there are some financing options that allow the patients to start the treatment immediately.

The steps to be followed in the clinics depend on the type of tumor, on its rate of expansion, and especially, on whether or not the evolution of the cancer is hormone dependent, that is, whether or not the cancer is influenced by the hormonal cycles of the body.

If the cancer is not hormone dependent, and drug treatment can wait a month, the doctor proceeds to an ovarian stimulation of the patient after her menstruation. The eggs are removed in the 12th or 14th day of the cycle, vitrified and stored until the woman wishes to revisit the idea of motherhood.

Become a mother after cancer

In cases of hormone-dependent cancer, when the hyper stimulation is contraindicated, or cases where chemotherapy cannot wait, an extraction of one or both naturally produced oocytes is performed and these oocytes that were ready to be ovulated are frozen.

Another option is to cryopreserve a part of the ovarian tissue. This involves the removal and freezing of a functional fragment of the ovary so it can be reinserted in the woman after she has defeated cancer. However, this last technique is still being studied and has not yet been perfected.

In the event that a cancer is diagnosed in prepubertal girls, who have not yet menstruated for the first time, it is not possible to submit them to an ovarian stimulation. In these cases, a part of their ovarian tissue is cryopreserved so these girls can use these immature oocytes in the future and become mothers.

Facing a diagnosis of cancer, patient survival is the priority, but we wanted to present the options that exist regarding motherhood after a cancer. We also wanted to make clear that a patient diagnosed with cancer should contact a fertility clinic before the cancer treatments start because the drugs used during these treatments can affect fertility.

Authors and contributors

 Laura Garrido
BSc, MSc
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