Fertility Preservation in the Face of a Cancer Diagnosis

seated female doctor counseling patient

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA), 70% of the most common and fatal forms of ovarian cancer begin in the Fallopian tubes. In 2022, OCRA established new guidelines encouraging women to have those tubes removed after they’ve built their families. The organization also recommended that women get screened for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, which can increase their risk of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. 

What options do women who haven’t finished – or started – building their families have while facing or being proactive about a cancer diagnosis? We spoke with Dr. Jamie Grifo, Program Director at NYU Langone Fertility Center, Chief Executive Physician at Inception Fertility, to find out more. 

Navigating cancer or learning that you are at a higher risk for one, can be emotionally taxing. For women who have not completed their family building journeys, the emotional toll of treatment is compounded by the uncertainty of their reproductive futures. Luckily, advances in reproductive medicine are giving women more options to preserve their fertility so they can focus on their cancer treatment and take charge over their health. 

Also known as human oocyte cryopreservation, egg freezing is a procedure that preserves a woman’s eggs so that she may use them in the future. It allows women to postpone pregnancy to a time that makes the most sense for them or must be delayed, such as a cancer diagnosis. Egg freezing also increases the chances of a healthy pregnancy for women who may decide to—or need to—delay childbirth because the eggs will keep their youth once frozen. For example, a woman who freezes her eggs at age 33 and uses them at age 40 will likely have the same chances at a healthy pregnancy that she would have had at 33 years of age. 

The other good news? Egg freezing has been found to be a highly successful form of fertility preservation. Dr. Grifo and his team recently published a first-of-its-kind, 15-year study showing that egg freezing is a viable option for anyone looking to preserve their fertility. Data from that study found over 74% of eggs survived the freezing process, and nearly 70% of those surviving eggs were successfully fertilized. For cancer patients or those at high risk, especially adolescents and young adults, news of their fertility preservation options can be comforting and give them hope that they can have a baby after cancer.   

So, where to begin? First, talk to your oncologist about your timeframe for treatment and then connect with a fertility specialist who can guide you through the egg freezing process and build an action plan. Because the fertility preservation process can take a few weeks, it’s important to have these conversations immediately with your oncologist so you don’t delay necessary cancer treatment. 

Once treatments are completed and you’re ready to start your family, it’s important to have discussions with your oncologist and fertility specialist to ensure that it is a safe time to begin fertility care. Once you’re given the green light, your fertility specialist will discuss with you the next step in the process, which will be determined by other aspects of your reproductive health.