Preserving Fertility: Improved Options for Cancer Patients
Infertility is a real, unfortunate side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. Many people don't realize there are ways to preserve future fertility. Stanford offers a unique, comprehensive, coordinated program for women and men to freeze oocytes (eggs), embryos, ovarian tissue, and sperm. You will receive world-class, high quality, compassionate, and personable care from the pioneers and leaders in reproductive medicine. Our oocyte cryopreservation program launched in 1999 and was the first of its kind.
Women are born with a finited number of eggs. As they age, the supply diminishes until there are no more viable eggs and menopause begins. Standard cancer treatments—including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery—damage or destroy eggs, essentially inducing early menopause in many women.
Women faced with cancer need to make decisions quickly about ways to potentially preserve their fertility. Fortunately, they have more choices than ever before, from new freezing methods for eggs to fertility-sparing surgeries.
Fertility preservation options for women include:
Cryopreservation of embryos
Freezing embryos is the most widely available and established way of preserving fertility before cancer treatment. The process involves retrieving eggs from the ovaries during an outpatient procedure, fertilizing them in the laboratory with sperm from a partner or donor, and freezing them for later use. A woman will undergo a 2 week regimen of hormone shots to develop multiple eggs before her therapy. In younger women, a dozen or more eggs may be collected.
The first successful pregnancy from a frozen human embryo was reported in 1983, and the technology has resulted in hundreds of thousands of babies.
In 1998, Stanford became one of the first medical centers in the country to offer egg freezing under an approved research protocol. In this procedure, mature eggs are removed from the ovaries and frozen without being fertilized. The eggs are frozen using the vitrification (quick freeze) technique and stored in a liquid nitrogen tank. They can later be thawed and fertilized in a lab.
Cryopreservation of ovarian tissue
In this procedure, a portion of the ovary is preserved and saved for future reimplantation (ovary transplant). Preserving ovarian tissue is still considered experimental and is performed under an IRB-approved protocol. This is most commonly done at the same time that another surgical procedure is being performed on the patient, such as removal of the ovary for cancer treatment.
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis can be performed to determine if an embryo is carrying a cancer genetic mutation. Screening embryos before implantation provides the ability to prevent passing on a known genetic disorder. Unaffected embryos can then be transferred to the woman’s uterus.
Male fertility and cancer
Male survivors of childhood cancer have an approximately 50% reduction in successfully conceiving after treatment.
In addition to patients with cancer, other men/boys also face decisions about fertility preservation. Men/boys to undergo stem cell transplantation for hematologic disorders (e.g., thalassemia, sickle cell anemia), immunodeficiencies, severe autoimmune diseases, systemic lupus erythematosus, enzyme deficiencies often consider fertility preservation. In addition, men/boys at risk for testicular degeneration such as Klinefelter syndrome may also consider fertility preservation.
A range of options to help patients, including cancer patients, who wish to preserve their ability to have children in the future.
For appointments with our male fertility specialists, please call the Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery Program at 650-723-3391.
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Please fax the Medical Record Release Form to your new patient coordinator. The medical release form is an authorization form for external facilities to release medical records to Stanford Health Care.
Call us at 650-498-7911 to refer a new patient for a fertility consultation or fax your referral to 650-498-6175. If you wish to refer a patient to the Stanford Cancer Center, please call the Physician Helpline.
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