Female Fertility Preservation

Fertility Preservation treatment is an option offered to patients before undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy which can affect their ability to conceive. Fertility Preservation for cancer patients is the only treatment presently covered by the Quebec program.


 

As a result of continued advances in the treatment of cancer, more young adults with cancer are approaching treatment with hope for the future. However some cancer treatments may have serious and lasting effects on the reproductive organs and on fertility. Even when damage to reproductive organs will be permanent, it can be possible to preserve fertility through fertility preservation treatment.

In females, cancer treatment may deplete the reserve of oocytes (eggs) in the ovaries and bring on an early menopause.

 

Egg/ Embryo Banking

With egg or embryo banking, a procedure can be done to retrieve eggs (oocytes) from the ovaries before cancer treatment begins. These oocytes can then be frozen (or fertilized with partner’s sperm, if desired, and then frozen) by the technique of fast freezing or “vitrification”.  Cryopreserved (frozen) eggs and embryos can be stored for many years and thawed for use at the time that pregnancy is desired. 

It is always hoped that there will be many eggs (or embryos) for banking because not every egg will give a pregnancy. For this reason most women will follow a course of hormone therapy before egg retrieval. Hormonal therapy is given to stimulate the ovaries to grow a number of eggs instead of the single egg that would normally be produced each month. 

Sometimes hormonal therapy is not necessary before egg retrieval. The Reproductive Centre has pioneered a technique of egg maturation, aptly called “in vitro maturation” or IVM, to mature eggs retrieved from the bank of immature eggs stored in the ovary. IVM has been a tremendous innovation that has freed women from the need to take hormone therapy; IVM is especially important to patients with cancer who wish to avoid hormone therapy or who cannot wait for a menstrual cycle and delay the start of cancer treatment. 

When pregnancy is eventually desired, the eggs or embryos that were stored will be thawed in preparation for transfer to the uterus (womb). Eggs are fertilized with partner’s sperm and then transferred to the womb for pregnancy. 

IVF and IVM are established treatments that have given pregnancies for many years but the Vitrification technique that is used to cryopreserve (freeze) eggs and embryos is newer (although many children have been born both here and elsewhere in the world). Egg and embryo banking to preserve fertility before cancer treatment is also new and therefore it is difficult to be sure of the rate of successes. In general, the chance of pregnancy with IVF and IVM are linked to age of the woman and also to individual level of fertility at the time of treatment. 

In vitro treatments are generally found to be safe however there are some risks of treatment that should always be discussed with a health professional. 

Other Treatment Options