Protecting Your Fertility During Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Ovarian cancer begins in or near the ovaries and may result in the removal of reproductive organs. Fertility is the quality of being able to become pregnant and give birth. Thus, ovarian cancer and its treatment can result in temporary or permanent decreased fertility or infertility.
For people with ovarian cancer who want to preserve their fertility during treatment, there are several things to be aware of.
Talk to your doctor
Upon discovering you have ovarian cancer, consider whether or not you want to start a family. Even if you're unsure, talk to your doctor immediately about your fertility and reproductive plans. Do not assume your doctor knows your plans or desires. Specific treatments or specialized action plans may be implemented by your team to help with your particular fertility preservation needs.
Having this conversation with your doctor prior to treatment is vital. Some questions you may consider asking are:
- What role will my health insurance play in fertility preservation?
- Will my specific treatment plan(s) cause me to become infertile? If so, for how long?
- Will preserving my fertility postpone the start of my cancer treatment? If so, how could this delay or impact my recovery?
- Should I seek additional advice from a reproductive endocrinologist, obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) specialist or a fertility specialist?
- Will fertility preservation have an impact on the effectiveness of my cancer treatment, health or life?
- Are there support groups available for me and my partner?
- Is there a therapist I should talk with about my needs and situation?
Natural pregnancy may still be possible even after treatment; however, there are many alternative fertility preservation options available. After talking with your doctor(s) and specialist(s), you'll be able to make a better decision about which option is best for you. Below are some of those options to consider:
- Embryo cryopreservation: This option starts with harvesting your embryo, then fertilizing it. Afterward, the embryo is frozen and stored.
- Egg Freezing (oocyte cryopreservation): This option is similar to embryo cryopreservation, but instead of harvesting and freezing your embryo, unfertilized eggs are harvested and frozen.
- Radiation shielding: A lead shield is used in this option as protection. The shield is placed over your ovaries and reduces the amount of exposure to radiation during treatment.
- Ovarian transposition (oophoropexy): Ovaries are surgically shifted to avoid some radiation damage. After treatment, the ovaries are placed back in their original position.
- Ovarian suppression: This option is experimental and its main purpose is to protect eggs via hormone supplements.
- Ovarian tissue preservation: This procedure is also experimental—the ovary or ovarian tissue is surgically removed, frozen and may be re-implanted inside the body.
Every option is not appropriate for all patients; to that end, there may be additional fertility preservation options available to you. Your doctor may also be able to create a specific plan for your individual needs. Evaluating each option against your current and future needs will help you determine which fertility preservation plan is right for you.
A diagnosis of ovarian cancer doesn't automatically mean you’ll never be able to start your family, although it may present a challenge. Fertility preservation research is still ongoing, and there may be clinical trials in which you can participate to help advance research in this area.
Knowing your fertility preservation options will help you determine the best strategy to ensure you continue to have the quality of life you desire after overcoming ovarian cancer.