For younger women diagnosed with cancer, the same treatments that are designed to save their lives can damage their ovaries and render them infertile. However, there are options available to help preserve fertility.
For some female patients, egg & embryo freezing is one option if done before treatment begins. For other women with aggressive cancers or hormone-sensitive cancers, this is not an option. Women with aggressive cancers may need to start treatment immediately and don’t have the 3-6 weeks needed to harvest eggs. Women with a hormone-sensitive cancer can not have their ovaries stimulated as this process can exacerbate the cancer.
For these women (those who can not harvest & freeze their eggs), there is an experimental option called “Ovarian Cryopreservation.” Dr. Kutluk Oktay, director of the Institute for Fertility Preservation/Reproductive Specialists of New York explains it like this… “Ovarian cryopreservation is a procedure where, when a woman is faced with a medical condition that would affect [her] future fertility, the ovary is removed through a keyhole procedure and it’s taken through a specialized process which involves treating the tissue with antifreeze substances and utilizing an automated process to preserve the ovary for future use.”
How does this new ovary-freezing procedure work?
According to Dr. Oktay, doctors first remove the ovary and then, once a woman has completed cancer treatment, transplant the tissue back into the abdomen – or even under the skin. Once transplanted, the ovarian tissue will be able to turn its supply of immature eggs into viable ones. The procedure takes about 40 minutes and can be done under local anesthesia.
Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation is not recommended for young women with ovarian cancer, leukemias or lymphoma. This process also potentially lends itself putting cancer-tainted tissue back into a patient who’s been cured.
Got more questions? Connect with LIVESTRONG Fertility– they help cancer patients get the information they need to make educated fertility decisions before and after cancer treatments- from understanding fertility risks to fertility preservation techniques to understanding what parenthood options exist after cancer.