University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute | UCCI

Contact and Appointments: (513) 475-8500

Fertility Preservation for Females Who Have Cancer

As a woman facing the challenges of cancer and its treatment, you may also be concerned about how these will affect your plans to have a family. UC Health’s oncofertility specialists work with you to maximize your potential to have biological children.

Recent medical advances have enhanced our ability to preserve fertility before cancer treatment. Our oncofertility services offer you several options to increase your chance of having a baby once you recover from cancer.

We also meet with women who have already finished treatment to evaluate whether your fertility has been affected and to explore ways in which we can help you plan for your future fertility.

How Cancer Affects Your Fertility

If you have cancer during child-bearing years, there is a risk that cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, will affect your fertility. The degree of risk depends on factors such as your cancer type, your age and your fertility status before treatment begins.

The extent and location of surgery, and the doses and duration of chemotherapy and radiation therapy you receive also have an impact on your fertility.

Possible effects of cancer treatment on fertility include:

  • Ovaries no longer contain a supply of healthy eggs.
  • Damage to the reproductive system prevents a fertilized egg from successfully implanting and growing in the uterus.
  • Damage to the reproductive system prevents you from being able to carry a pregnancy.
  • Hormonal changes that cause temporary or permanent menopause.

To understand your risk with specific types of cancer, visit LIVESTRONG.

Options to Preserve Fertility before Your Treatment

Although it is not possible to guarantee success in every situation, new techniques give us more hope than ever before.

A freezing technique called cryopreservation allows us to rapidly freeze eggs, embryos and reproductive tissue for an unlimited time.

Egg Freezing

During this process, you receive daily injections for up to two weeks to stimulate your ovaries to produce mature eggs. Through vaginal ultrasound, we assess when you have the maximum number of eggs. We harvest the eggs from the ovaries using vaginal ultrasound while you are under sedation (twilight sleep). Then our embryologists freeze the eggs and store them.

In the future, your eggs can be thawed and injected with male sperm for fertilization. Embryos will then be placed in your uterus or a surrogate’s uterus to achieve pregnancy.

Embryo Freezing

This process follows the same steps as egg freezing, with an extra step. Before freezing, we mix egg and sperm together in our laboratory to create embryos. You can use your partner’s sperm or a sperm donor.

In the future, your embryos will be thawed and then placed into your uterus or a surrogate’s uterus to achieve pregnancy.

Ovarian Tissue Freezing

This is an experimental process reserved for women who don’t have the option for egg or embryo freezing because of cancer type, age (pre-puberty) or lack of time. To pursue this option, you must enter a research study.

You will have one or both ovaries removed. The ovaries are cut into strips that contain your eggs. They are frozen and can be stored for an unlimited time. In the future, the ovarian strips will be thawed and placed back in your body for natural conception or assistance with reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization.

Ovary Suppression during Cancer Treatment

For certain types of cancer, you may receive medication injections every one to three months to decrease blood supply — and, therefore, chemotherapy — to your ovaries during treatment. Research is still being conducted to understand if this treatment will truly help protect your fertility.

Symptoms from treatment may include hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes and vaginal dryness.

Surgically Moving the Ovaries (Surgical Transposition)

If your treatment plan includes radiation therapy to the pelvic area, our oncofertility specialists can refer you to a gynecologic surgeon who will use minimally invasive surgery to move the ovaries above the pelvic area. The ability of this new procedure to preserve fertility is still under investigation.

Our goal is to give you the best options tailored to your diagnosis and treatment plan. For more detailed descriptions of these procedures and options following cancer recovery, download our oncofertility patient packet.

Exploring Options after Cancer Treatment

If you’ve already finished cancer treatment without fertility preservation, or you choose not to proceed with fertility preservation at this time, we encourage you to see us for a consultation. We can evaluate your fertility status and explore options for the future, including egg donation, adoption and having a pregnancy surrogate.