Should Cancer Patients Freeze Their Eggs Before Chemotherapy?

Although chemotherapy is life-saving for many cancer patients, it is an aggressive treatment which has the potential to cause severe side effects. Some of these side effects can continue long after the patient is no longer receiving chemotherapy. Infertility is a common side effect of chemotherapy, and of radiation therapy to the abdomen. Because of the potential for infertility, many women consider freezing eggs before chemotherapy.

Effect of Chemotherapy on Fertility

Unfortunately, cancer treatment can have devastating effects for women’s future fertility. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and about 5% of women with invasive breast cancer were under the age of 40 at the time of diagnosis. Most women with breast cancer receive chemotherapy, and they may also receive radiation. Sadly, fewer than 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40 go on to have a live birth.

Chemotherapy and radiation cause infertility because of their ability to cause premature menopause, which permanently ends a woman’s fertility. Additionally, such treatments can damage the eggs stored in the ovaries, and the ovaries do not produce new eggs over time.

How Freezing Eggs Before Chemotherapy Works

The ideal choice for fertility preservation is the freezing of embryos. However, some women who are undergoing chemotherapy do not have a partner that they know they want to have children with. Others may feel uncomfortable with the creation of embryos that may not be used. These women are strong candidates for freezing eggs before chemotherapy.

The concept behind egg freezing is simple: many eggs are collected from the woman’s ovaries, then frozen until the woman is ready to use them in an IVF cycle. At the beginning of the woman’s menstrual cycle, gonadotropin fertility drugs are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce many more egg follicles than usual. If the woman needs to immediately begin cancer treatment, immature eggs may be collected and frozen, and the doctor can attempt to mature them in the laboratory in a procedure known as in vitro maturation.

Effectiveness of Egg Freezing

There is never a guarantee that any fertility treatment will be successful. However, success rates for egg cryopreservation have steadily risen in recent years, thanks to improvements in egg retrieval, egg freezing, and egg thawing techniques. Many women have successfully had children with frozen eggs, and the rates of success are similar to the success rates with fresh eggs. That being said, the use of embryos is still considered the gold standard in fertility preservation.

The Bottom Line

For many women, freezing eggs before chemotherapy provides a better chance of being able to start a family down the line. However, it is important that all patients understand the limitations as well as the benefits of the procedure. There is a risk of side effects with any medical procedure, including egg cryopreservation. Additionally, there is no guarantee that a woman will produce enough eggs to freeze, or that she will get pregnant when she decides to use the eggs. In addition, the oncologist as well as the fertility doctor should both be involved in the decision, particularly if the cancer is fast-growing.

Many women decide that the benefits of preserving their fertility outweigh the risks and limitations of egg freezing. If you are interested in freezing eggs before chemotherapy, Dr. Randy Morris would be happy to hear from you. To schedule your consultation today, please click below and enter your information or call IVF1 at (630) 357-6540.

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