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Preserving Female Fertility While Facing Cancer

A cancer diagnosis is life changing. For many newly diagnosed patients, there may be a question regarding how this diagnosis and necessary treatment will impact future fertility. Over the last several years, greater strides have been made in terms of offering patients options for fertility preservation. We will be discussing fertility preservation options that are often considered as well as funding for this treatment.

What is Fertility Preservation?

Certain types of cancers and their treatment can impact reproductive potential. Fertility preservation is when eggs, sperm or reproductive tissue is saved or protected in order to preserve the ability to have children in the future.

What Does Fertility Preservation Entail?

It is very important to openly discuss your diagnosis and its fertility impact with your physician. Unfortunately, not all providers will bring up this topic with patients. The type of fertility preservation treatment recommended will depend on your diagnosis and proposed cancer treatment. Some of the most common types of fertility preservation include:

  • Cryopreservation, or freezing of embryos or eggs. This is often recommended for females who plan to undergo chemotherapy. The process of collecting eggs typically takes several weeks. The egg retrieval often will involve several days of injections followed by a minor surgical procedure to remove the eggs. Depending on your relationship status and personal desire, you may choose to fertilize the eggs and develop embryos for cryopreservation. You may wish to discuss the statistical success of these two options with your provider.

  • An additional option is fertility sparing surgery. For example, if a women has early stage ovarian cancer, the provider may remove the affected ovary and leave the remaining ovary and uterus intact.

  • Another new procedure involves ovarian transposition. In this surgery, the ovaries are moved from the target of treatment. This process is in its early stages and is not always successful.

Although costs vary between providers, it is important to discuss coverage with your insurance. Even if fertility services are not covered by your plan, some insurance plans often have separate criteria for patients undergoing these services due to the diagnosis of cancer. Some states have passed laws mandating coverage in this setting, so it important to do your research and advocate for yourself.

Other Considerations for Fertility Preservation:

It is important to discuss the recommended timeframe for treatment with your provider. In many cases involving a cancer diagnosis, time is of the essence. It would be helpful if your provider assisted in referring you to a fertility specialist who is able to see you on an expedited basis. In many areas, access to a fertility specialist is limited, with long wait times. Often, a referral from your oncologist may help facilitate sooner evaluation and treatment.

How Do I Cover Costs?

If your insurance denies coverage, it is important to discuss options with the fertility clinic. Some clinics offer payment plans or financing options. Additionally, it is important to note that there are several organizations that offer free funding for patients with cancer who are undergoing fertility preservation. It is helpful to do your research and discuss these options with your clinic. Often, the financial services department of your clinic will have information regarding grants or funding that you may qualify for.

Closing Message:

Patients facing a new cancer diagnosis should be encouraged to discuss the potential impact of treatment on future fertility. The recommended method of fertility preservation depends on the diagnosis and proposed cancer treatment. Many patients with planned chemotherapy elect to proceed with cryopreservation of eggs or embryos. While some states require that insurance companies cover these costs, other states do not require coverage. There are grants available for patients in this setting.

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