University of Utah Health Oncofertility Program

One significant side-effect of cancer treatment is that it can lead to infertility after treatment. Discussing cancer and infertility is most helpful when you talk to your doctor as early as possible after cancer diagnosis, as it’s best if fertility treatment occurs before chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.

However, if you have already begun treatment for your cancer and are concerned about chemotherapy and infertility, there may still be options available to you. The sooner you discuss the issue with your oncologist and consult a fertility preservation specialist, the better.

Common Cancer & Infertility Concerns

While every type of cancer has the potential to cause infertility depending on the treatment, common cancers that can impact infertility include:

Delaying Cancer Treatment For Fertility Preservation

A big concern you may have is whether it’s safe or wise to delay cancer treatment while undergoing a fertility preservation procedure, such as freezing eggs or embryos for future use. Fertility preservation typically takes approximately two weeks. While it will depend on your cancer and treatment, under many circumstances, it is safe to wait a few weeks before starting cancer treatment in order to complete your fertility preservation.

In some cases, such as with leukemia or other cancers, treatment needs to begin immediately. If this is the case, we can meet with you after treatment to discuss future options for fertility, even if you didn’t have a chance to freeze eggs or embryos before treatment.

Couple seeking fertility treatment

Options For Fertility After Chemotherapy

Even if your chemotherapy treatment has already begun, there are many options available. Depending on whether you are male or female, there are different treatment options available to allow you to conceive a child after chemotherapy. If you are able to have fertility treatment after chemotherapy, successful options can include: oral medications, sperm inseminations, or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Additionally, your fertility provider will be happy to discuss other family building options if you choose, such as future fertility treatment, donor eggs, or adoption.

Cancer & Female Infertility After Chemotherapy

For women, there are four common options to help you protect your fertility after chemotherapy. These include:

1. Egg Freezing

This procedure involves the use of hormone medication to increase mature egg production. We then perform an egg retrieval, or egg pick-up, where we remove these eggs from your ovaries with a safe procedure. During the egg retrieval procedure, we provide light sedation to prevent discomfort.  We then freeze the eggs through a process known as vitrification, which is a very effective way to freeze eggs for future use. 

2. Embryo Freezing

Similar to egg freezing, except the eggs are fertilized with sperm from a partner or donor before freezing the embryo.

3. Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Therapy

Through the use of hormone injections every one to three months, your body will be placed in a temporary “pseudo-menopausal” state that may protect your fertility during chemotherapy. This treatment may also be used in conjunction with other IVF cancer treatment options.

4. Ovarian Transposition

If your treatment requires radiation therapy in or near the pelvis, we may recommend that you have surgery to move your ovaries out of the field of radiation.

Consulting with your fertility provider can help you determine which option(s) are best for you.

Cancer & Male Infertility After Chemotherapy

For men, there are two common options to help preserve your fertility after chemotherapy. These include:

1. Sperm Banking

Sperm samples are collected through self-stimulation and then safely frozen for future use.

2. Testicular Biopsy/Freezing

This procedure involves making a small incision to the testicle to remove a portion of the testicle or one entire testicle and then preserving the tissue through freezing.

Consulting with your fertility provider can help you determine which option(s) are best for you.

Ongoing Cancer Treatment & Fertility Counseling

Dealing with cancer and infertility is a complex process, and our fertility preservation specialists can act as an ongoing resource to help you understand your fertility status and the best options to build a family whenever you are ready.

As leaders in the fertility field, we continually conduct research and revise our practices based on our outcomes and patient success rates.

Other Cancer & Infertility Concerns

How Long Can Your Freeze Your Sperm Or Eggs?

The process of freezing is simple and highly successful, and your eggs and sperm can be frozen indefinitely at a proper storage facility. The majority of sperm and eggs are expected to survive after freezing and thawing.

Are Fertility Medicines Safe To Take If I Have Cancer?

Another concern is whether fertility medicines, which can include hormones, are safe to take when you have cancer. To ensure your health and safety, we take a team-based approach and will communicate and coordinate care with your oncologist.

In most instances, the fertility medicine will not impact your cancer. Even if you have breast cancer, which is estrogen receptive positive, studies have shown that it is safe to take fertility medicines. We can also give additional medications that will keep the levels of estrogen low while taking hormone medication.

Childhood Cancer & Infertility

It can be difficult to watch your child struggle with cancer, but it is also important to consider how cancer could impact their ability to have a child later in life. Our fertility consultations can be geared for age-appropriate discussions and can involve you or as many family members as you would like for patients under the age of 18. 

Next Steps

If you need to see an infertility specialist because you have been diagnosed with cancer, make an appointment with our fertility specialist. When you talk with our scheduling specialists, if you mention that you are seeking fertility preservation in the setting of a cancer diagnosis, they will get you in as soon as possible.

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