Thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer each year, including children and young adults. Throughout the course of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions they face many questions about their future and their fertility. Many of these questions tend to remain unanswered, and are frequently not even addressed.
It is now possible to offer individuals the chance to preserve their fertility prior to initiating any therapy which might permanently destroy the opportunity to have children in the future.
At the University of Chicago a program has been designed and is specifically dedicated to preserving ovarian tissue or eggs for women and sperm or gonadal tissue for men. Working with your doctors we can arrange to quickly obtain eggs or sperm prior to any therapy that puts these cells at risk of irreversible damage. Thankfully many young individuals survive cancer with current treatments and can lead healthy lives and we can now offer them the chance of preserving fertility as well.
Reasons to Consider Cryopreservation (freezing of tissue at extremely cold temperatures):
- You will be undergoing cancer treatment
- Medications you will be taking are known to decrease fertility--chemotherapy drugs that are known to affect fertility include the following: busulfan, melphalan, cyclophosphamide, cisplatin, chlorambucil, mustine, carmustine, lomustine, cytarabine, and procarbanzine.
- You will be undergoing a procedure or surgery which could affect your reproductive health
- You have a medical condition which is beginning to affect your reproductive abilities (multiple sclerosis, diabetes, etc.)
- You are undergoing a sterilization procedure (vasectomy)
- As part of your infertility treatment, such as Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
- Delaying reproductive choices
- You will be exposed to chemical, biological, or environmental hazards
- Formation of egg banks in clinics to lessen costs to women unable to produce their own oocytes/men unable to produce own sperm
The University of Chicago offers the following services for preservation of fertility:
- Donor Egg and Donor Sperm
- Egg (Oocyte) Freezing
- Embryo Freezing
- Ovarian Tissue Freezing
- Sperm Freezing
- Testicular Tissue Freezing
Click here to see an ASRM fact sheet on Cancer and Fertility Preservation
Oocyte Cryopreservation (Egg Freezing)
The freezing and thawing of human oocytes, until recently, was thought to be unrealistic. In the past, males were able to preserve sperm, but we have been unable to offer solutions to females who wish to preserve their fertility. With newly devised methods and increased interest in the preservation of fertility, we have initiated an oocyte cryopreservation program for a number of reasons.
First, it is known that the ovary has a set number of eggs at the time of birth capable of being ovulated over the female's reproductive life span. The longer the egg resides in the ovary before it is ovulated and fertilized, the greater chance there is for the mechanism of chromosome segregation to become faulty and thus lead to abnormal development of the fetus. For those women who wish to delay starting a family, oocyte cryopreservation offers an opportunity to freeze their eggs in their twenties and conceive beginning in their late thirties and beyond.
Second, many women can develop premature reproductive aging (premature ovarian failure - POF) which develops due to their inability to respond to their own hormones or those administered by injection. As a result, most produce far fewer eggs than other women of comparable age and usually the eggs that are produced are of inferior quality. Oocyte cryopreservation offers women with POF an opportunity to freeze eggs at the first signs of POF and thereby maximize the yield of good quality eggs before POF fully takes hold.
Third, oocyte cryopreservation provides hope for women who are required to undergo chemical or surgical treatment for cancer. Increasing numbers of cancer-free patients are returning to living productive lives and with the aid of oocyte preservation will be able to have children.
Sperm Cryopreservation (Sperm Freezing, Sperm Banking)
Sperm banking is useful, even in males with a very low sperm count, in that it can be used later in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). Sperm banking is something that can be done quickly, painlessly, and many samples can be collected over a short period of time and the sperm can be frozen indefinitely.
In May of 2004, a baby was born to a couple in London in which sperm frozen for over 20 years ago was used to conceive.
Ovary and Testes Cryopreservation
Recently published research on human and animal models have shown that ovarian and testicular tissues can be cryopreserved prior to cancer treatment and later transplanted back to an individual rid of the malignancy. It has been shown that transplanted ovarian tissues respond to hormones and produce viable eggs which can be fertilized and develop into embryos. As part of our Fertility Preservation Program, we will be examining new methods of freezing eggs, ovarian and testicular tissues and their subsequent transplantation for resumption of fertility.