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Preserving Fertility After a Cancer Diagnosis: Your Comprehensive Guide

Preserving Fertility After a Cancer Diagnosis: Your Comprehensive Guide

The average age of having your first child has steadily grown. Since 1990, more women have children over the age of 30 than those in their teens or early 20s. While this allows more first-time parents to be well-established in their careers (and often, financially), it also means that some women may find themselves in an unenviable position.

The Harvard Gazette reports a dramatic rise in early-onset cancers, defined as cancer before the age of 50. What do you do if you get diagnosed with cancer before you have had children? Does it mean that you have to say goodbye to that dream? Not necessarily. Dr. Edward J. Ramirez of The Fertility & Gynecology Center - Monterey Bay IVF explains more about how to preserve your fertility, even after a cancer diagnosis.

Your first step 

When you’ve got cancer, your oncologist is understandably eager to begin treatment as soon as possible. However, many women of childbearing age have enough time to spare to meet with Dr. Ramirez about planning to preserve their fertility.

Coming in for a consultation with Dr. Ramirez before beginning your oncology treatment is essential; it can often make the difference between having biological children and not. When you come in, he will take a full health history, including asking about your type of cancer and what the planned treatment is.

He will then make a customized fertility-preservation plan. He takes into account multiple factors, including the stage of your cancer and your treatment plan. Not all types of cancer require treatments that will necessarily limit your fertility, but most do. More advanced types of cancer do not allow waiting for fertility preservation treatments, but your approach will likely require some coordination between Dr. Ramirez and your oncologist.

How to preserve fertility

If you do have enough time to wait before beginning your cancer treatment, you’ll have to decide on freezing eggs or embryos, a decision Dr. Ramirez can help you make.

If you decide on freezing either your eggs or embryos, you’ll need to begin the ovulation induction phase of IVF. You’ll receive injection training from a nurse and be given instructions to begin giving yourself injections of ovulation-stimulating drugs early in your next menstrual cycle. The drugs will stimulate your ovaries to produce more eggs than the usual one per cycle.

Once you’re confirmed to be at the peak of ovulation, you’ll come in for egg retrieval. This process requires you to be under IV sedation, during which we will retrieve the eggs from your ovaries using an ultrasound-guided needle.

The most mature follicles are chosen and continue to develop for 1-5 days in the laboratory. Whether you use your partner’s sperm or donor sperm, it will also be collected around the same time as your egg retrieval.

The total time required for this process is about 3 weeks, so your cancer treatment won’t have to wait long.

What to do with your frozen eggs or embryos

When you finish your cancer treatment, you can come back to use the eggs or embryos that you’ve frozen at any time while you’re still of reproductive age, or they can be carried by a gestational surrogate.

You may decide that you’re ready to get back to pursuing the dream of having a family after undergoing cancer treatment. How long to wait is an individual decision that should be made during consultations with both your oncologist and Dr. Ramirez. 

Whenever you’re ready, we can implant the fertilized egg into your uterus, where it can grow into a baby. You’ll receive extra monitoring throughout your pregnancy.

Although a cancer diagnosis is undoubtedly scary, it’s worth taking the time to see if you can preserve your fertility. You may be very glad that you did, especially once your cancer goes into remission and you begin feeling like yourself again. Call The Fertility & Gynecology Center - Monterey Bay IVF to make an appointment with Dr. Ramirez, or request one online.

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