Planning For A Future Family With Cancer

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can be devastating physically and emotionally. Moreover, cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can negatively affect fertility. When treatment is needed, concerns about future family planning can arise. On the brighter side, medical advancements now allow cancer patients to preserve fertility before undergoing treatment, providing hope for a future biological child. Oncofertility, which involves the cryopreservation of reproductive tissues, oocytes, and embryos, can help cancer patients plan for a family after cancer treatment.


How does treatment affect fertility?

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy, while potentially life-saving, can damage reproductive organs and impair fertility in cancer patients. These treatments can disrupt the normal function of the ovaries or testes, leading to a decreased production of eggs or sperm. The gonadotoxicity of treatment is a major concern for cancer survivors who wish to have children in the future. To address this problem, oncofertility counseling has gained recognition as an essential part of cancer care for individuals of reproductive age.

Where oncology meets reproduction

Oncofertility is a specialized field that merges the disciplines of oncology and reproductive medicine. This field aims to address the fertility needs and concerns of cancer patients. Oncofertility involves the collaboration between oncologists and fertility specialists to provide safe and effective fertility preservation options before cancer treatment begins. The goal of oncofertility is to give cancer patients the opportunity to have biological children in the future by preserving reproductive tissues. Cancer patients may benefit from various fertility preservation techniques, such as cryopreservation.

Freeze and store

Cryopreservation is a technique used to freeze and store reproductive tissues, such as ovarian tissue, eggs, sperm, and embryos. These tissues are carefully collected from cancer patients before undergoing treatment. The material is then rapidly cooled to very low temperatures, typically using liquid nitrogen, to preserve viability. With this process, the reproductive tissues can be stored for an extended period without significant deterioration, allowing the patient to pursue future family planning once ready.

Using cryopreserved materials

After completing cancer treatment, assisted reproductive technology (ART), using cryopreserved reproductive tissues, can help individuals conceive a child. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an excellent ART option, where the cryopreserved eggs or embryos are thawed and then fertilized with sperm to create a viable embryo. This embryo can then be implanted into the patient's uterus or the uterus of a gestational carrier to achieve pregnancy. Aside from IVF, the cryopreserved tissues can also be used for ovarian tissue transplantation. With this procedure, the cryopreserved ovarian tissue is surgically implanted back into the patient's body, restoring hormonal function and potentially allowing for natural conception.

The future of fertility preservation

While cryopreservation is currently the most established method for fertility preservation, research in oncofertility continues to advance. Experimental techniques, such as artificial ovaries and in vitro maturation, are being explored, which could expand the options available to cancer patients for fertility preservation. These innovative techniques hold promise for improving the success rates and accessibility of fertility preservation, allowing more cancer patients to start a family after completing treatment.