Preserving Fertility While Facing Ovarian Cancer
An ovarian cancer diagnosis is the type of challenge that is normally best faced between the patient and her oncologist. A treatment path will be determined based on your individual situation, and may include chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery if your doctor believes that one or all will offer the most success. You could also be set on a path that would require all three forms of care.
These conversations, again, are between the patient and her doctor, but there is one conversation that as a fertility practice, we want to ensure that it is occurring as well. Fertility preservation, also referred to as oncofertility when in regard to the presence of cancer, is a topic that should be noted very shortly after a cancer diagnosis is received. This is especially true if the patient is pre-menopausal and has a personal interest in building their family in the future. For women, fertility preservation refers to egg freezing.
We wanted to discuss how egg freezing works when someone receives a cancer diagnosis, particularly ovarian cancer or other forms of cancer that directly impact a woman’s reproductive system. We hope this will encourage patients to discuss preserving their fertility early with their doctor, if their doctor does not initiate the discussion first. You should not have any assumptions about your oncologist taking the lead when it comes to fertility concerns.
Oncofertility care: What is it and do I need it?
As noted above, oncofertility refers to fertility preservation efforts that occur because a person has been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer treatments can be harmful to a person’s fertility. Chemotherapy and radiation, particularly when radiation is aimed at the ovaries, can negatively impact your body’s reproductive functions. Radiation to the pelvis area can damage the ovaries, and chemotherapy can disrupt hormones associated with egg production and the menstrual cycle; some women can enter early menopause due to chemotherapy.
Regarding reproductive surgery as a cancer treatment, this can potentially call for the removal of reproductive organs because they contain cancerous tissue. If organs essential to conceiving and/or carrying a baby are removed, obviously this would be detrimental to fertility.
Because of the risk of the above factors, cancer patients who desire to have children in the future are strongly encouraged to pursue fertility preservation efforts. This is applicable to both women and men. Men can freeze their sperm and women can freeze their eggs. Egg freezing is a more involved process than process freezing, so it can take a couple of weeks to complete. Since a possible delay of cancer treatment is likely because of the time required to complete egg freezing, you will need to discuss this with your doctor a) prior to starting treatment and b) as soon as possible. He or she can provide a recommendation as to whether a delay is feasible given your diagnosis.
If you have questions about egg freezing due to impending cancer treatment, please contact our practice so we can assist.