Can You Have a Baby After Cancer Treatment?
The hours and days after a cancer diagnosis can be a whirlwind.
But if you can imagine your life post-cancer and think it will include children, you need to take a few steps BEFORE you have surgery or begin chemotherapy or radiation for your cancer.
Thanks to sperm banking and freezing of either eggs or fertilized embryos, a cancer patient’s chances of becoming a parent after treatment are better than they ever were. And since more patients are living longer and healthier after treatment, it’s something many should consider.
The bad news is that cancer doctors sometimes forget to tell patients that these options are available. A recent study in the Journal of Oncology Practice showed that less than a third of young men were counseled about sperm banking before beginning chemotherapy.
“We really recommend that men bank their semen before beginning treatment,” says Dr. Dan Williams, UW Health urologist and male fertility expert. He explains that sometimes cancer treatments can impair sperm production and can even damage the DNA of your sperm. Treatments may leave you temporarily or permanently unable to have children.
Luckily, patients at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center can work with Williams and other experts at Generations Fertility Care to discuss fertility goals and options. Generations is a partner in the LIVESTRONG fertility preservation program, which means there are discounts available to qualified cancer patients for certain fertility preservation drugs and procedures.
What's Involved if You Are Interested in Preserving Future Fertility
Here’s what is involved:
First, let your cancer doctor know that you are interested in preserving your fertility. For some slower-growing cancers, it may not be a problem to delay treatment until you can take care of your future fertility.
For men, the process is fairly simple and quick. They should contact Generations for an appointment to do a semen analysis. Normally guys go to the Generations clinic in Middleton to collect their sample. If men are already in the hospital, arrangements can be made for a family member or a courier service to transport the sample to the Generations clinic.
There, the sample will be tested to see if sperm are present and viable (sometimes the cancer itself can already be affecting the sperm). The sample will also be tested for several Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Then the sperm will be frozen and stored (banked).
Dr. Jeffrey Jones, director of the andrology and IVF laboratory at Generations, says that the banked semen is like an insurance policy. Men generally return about six months after their cancer treatment is complete. They give a second semen sample. If their sperm is healthy again, the pre-treatment sample can be discarded. Otherwise, it is kept frozen in liquid nitrogen until the man is ready to become a father.
The current LIVESTRONG price for men banking semen is $253, plus $33 a month for storage. If required, the costs for initial consultation and FDA screening for STIs are extra. Insurance typically does not pay for fertility preservation.
A More Complex Process for Women
For women, the process is more complex, and more expensive. Laura Thibodeau, the clinic coordinator, says women should call Generations directly at (888) 474-3933 to set up an initial consultation.
Generations Fertility Care
For an initial consultation, call (888) 474-3933.
“We make it a point to get them in within a day or two if needed,’’ she says.
Women have several decisions to make.
They can either opt to preserve their unfertilized eggs, or if they have a partner, they can have the eggs fertilized and the embryo preserved. This means major life decisions for a woman who has also just learned she has cancer. This is one reason Generations has all women also meet with Dr. Julianne Zweifel, Generations clinical psychologist, who specializes in fertility issues.
The process for women involves 2-1/2 weeks to a month of office visits, lab testing and daily medication injections to coordinate the woman’s ovulation cycle. The process also includes ultrasounds, anesthesia, retrieval of eggs and possible creation of embryos with a partner’s sperm, then long-term freezing (also called cryopreservation) of the eggs or embryos.
Again, insurance usually doesn’t cover fertility preservation. The LIVESTRONG price is $5,225 for egg cryopreservation or $5,500 for embryos. Again, the initial consultation, FDA screening for STIs, long-term storage and some other costs are extra.
Despite the cost and extra medical treatments, Jones says that cancer patients are often grateful to have the chance to preserve a future that could include children.
“We have many patients say that this is the one part of cancer that is hopeful,’’ Jones says. “It gives them hope for their future after cancer.”
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Date Published: 07/01/2016