Cancer Treatment Now Includes Fertility Planning

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Young women facing cancer treatments have fertility-preservation options to consider. Egg freezing is a newer technique, and expensive, but some programs are free of charge. Embryo freezing is more advanced but requires legal safeguards.

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Unexpected Divorce

What happened next--the unforeseen end of her marriage--shocked Anna and jolted her plans for the future. "A year later, my husband left," she says. "In subsequent lengthy divorce negotiations, I was not allowed to have the embryos."

This is not uncommon in such disputes, as DNA cannot be used without an affected individual's consent. Both parties responsible for the creation of an embryo, whether part of a couple or not, must agree on the possibilities for its use.

Some fertility doctors encourage their patients to get as much legally addressed and resolved as possible along these lines at the time that embryos are created; but a patient heading into cancer treatment might understandably not find time to meet with a lawyer in the midst of already overwhelming medical appointments.

"The cancer was a very difficult thing to live through," says Anna. "The divorce was much worse. But losing the embryos was like having my heart punched into pieces. It's been four years and my life has certainly moved on, but I will forever regret not having eggs that I could use--whether to carry a pregnancy, to use a surrogate, or even to choose to donate the eggs. If there is one thing I would say to women considering their options, it is this: Life changes in the blink of an eye. Your husband may not be your husband next year or when you finally use those eggs. People die. People divorce. Remember that with your cancer diagnosis and your fertility concerns, you need to preserve fertility for yourself and no one else."

Women who, for various reasons, were not able to take fertility-preservation measures before their cancer treatment can find themselves in a difficult position. Most presentations, statistics, and programs focus on what to do before cancer therapy, not after.

Fertility preservation might not occur before treatment for many reasons. In some cases of aggressive cancer, doctors would prefer not to allow time for fertility measures, which must be timed properly to a woman's cycle. Some women can't afford the measures, which underscores the importance of the Sher program and the need for more. There is also the patient's age: Egg freezing can only be performed when a patient is old enough to ovulate.

If egg retrieval is not possible after treatment, a woman may be able to use a donor egg.

And while the Sher program and others focus on women who have not yet been through treatment, it is worth discussing one's particular circumstances with program representatives to see what options and assistance might be available.


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Pamela Grossman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer, editor, and medical advocate and an active member of the Young Survival Coalition and SHARE.

For more information:

The Sher Institute:

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Fertility treatments are one of the things that a lot of people forget about when discussing the horrors surrounding cancer and its treatments. Because of this, the article above was particularly interesting to people who have not been directly affected by cancer. I think the programs that offer free egg retrieval for women undergoing cancer treatments that could impact fertility are the best method of combating this problem. However, based on the fact that only one such program is mentioned by name, I am going to assume that these are few and far between. Without these programs, women without means are once again left behind. Medical treatments of almost any kind are expensive to begin with; repeated cancer treatments tend to be even worse. On top of that, as the article mentions, any kind of fertility treatment or egg/embryo storage is ridiculously expensive and becomes a luxury that many cannot afford. And, understandably, many people will place overall heath above the potential to have children later in life. But this is a decision that removes certain futures—ones with children—from women, if they make it to that future. The only aspect of this article that I had a difficult time with was the part where it seems to criticize doctors for rushing patients into cancer treatments. Obviously I agree that women should be informed of all treatment side effects, including fertility implications, but I think it is a little difficult to judge the decision to try and save a person’s life as quickly as possible and, from what I understand, egg retrievals are fairly intense processes that there may not be time for.