Fertility Preservation Options for Women
Prolonging the ability to have children is becoming an increasingly popular option for many people. This may be due to medical treatments they are undergoing that may affect fertility, or because they have decided to delay having children. Whatever the reason may be, there are fertility preservations options available.
Who might consider preserving their fertility?
While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind after a cancer diagnosis, fertility may be affected. If you're of childbearing age, some treatments that help fight cancer, such as certain chemotherapy agents and radiation, may also affect your ability to have children. When possible, before undergoing treatment, some patients may have the ability to utilize fertility-preserving options so they can still have children after they finish treatment via in vitro fertilization.
Medical treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy for transgender and gender diverse people, may affect fertility or a person’s ability to conceive a child. In these cases, fertility preservation may be a good option to try and conceive via in vitro fertilization at a later date.
Some people are not ready to have children until later in life. People are born with all the eggs they will ever produce. Both the quality and quantity of eggs remaining in your ovaries gradually decline throughout your life, and this decline accelerates beginning around age 35. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, by 45 fertility has declined so much that getting pregnant naturally is unlikely for most people. Additionally, the remaining eggs in older people are more likely to have abnormal chromosomes, and as people age, they are at higher risk of disorders that can affect fertility, such as uterine fibroids and endometriosis. While many people have had successful pregnancies later in life, fertility preservation allows people to preserve their younger eggs until they are ready for children at a later date.
Options to preserve fertility
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a method used to save a person's ability to get pregnant in the future. This is performed by a reproductive endocrinologist, and eggs (oocytes) are retrieved from your ovaries and are frozen unfertilized (meaning they are not combined with sperm) and stored for later use. A frozen egg can then be thawed, combined with sperm in a lab and implanted in your uterus (in vitro fertilization) or the uterus of a surrogate.
Embryo freezing is very similar to egg freezing, but in this method (also performed by a reproductive endocrinologist), the eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and fertilized with sperm, which creates an embryo before being frozen. The embryo is then implanted via in vitro fertilization at a later date.
For patients undergoing radiation, radiation shielding may be an option. In this procedure, small lead shields are placed over the ovaries to reduce the amount of radiation exposure they receive.
Whatever your reasoning may be to preserving your fertility, your medical team can help provide you with the resources and information you need to determine the best approach for you.