Fertility preservation for cancer patients
Cancer treatments (such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy) may reduce a woman’s fertility potential either temporarily or permanently. At Northwell Health Fertility, we can freeze your eggs for future use, before you undergo cancer treatment. Note that sometimes there’s a short window of time between receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing cancer treatment, so there must be enough time in order for egg freezing to take place.
Egg freezing process
The actual egg freezing cycle will take about two weeks. Here’s what you can expect.
- Preparation: You will first meet with one of our physicians for a consultation to discuss the egg freezing process. You will have a physical examination, pelvic ultrasound, blood tests that include ovarian reserve testing, and you will sign a consent form. All of your questions about the procedure will be answered at this time.
- Medical clearance: Written clearance from your oncologist is required. Your oncologist will also review your records (including biopsy, diagnosis, staging and treatment plans) and determine your eligibility. We will be in contact with your oncology team throughout the fertility preservation process, so that there are no delays in your cancer treatment.
- Ovarian stimulation: If medically cleared, you will receive injections of fertility drugs for about 10 days. You will be monitored with blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds.
- Trigger shot: You will receive a trigger shot (Lupron and/or hCG) to help your eggs reach final maturation prior to the egg retrieval.
- Egg retrieval: About 34 to 36 hours following the trigger shot, your eggs will be retrieved vaginally in our procedure suite using ultrasound guidance. The procedure is short (typically less than 30 minutes) and is done under general intravenous anesthesia. You will have a short stay in the recovery room (approximately one hour) prior to going home.
- Egg freezing: Your eggs will be frozen the day of the procedure and remain frozen until you decide to use them.
Frequently asked questions
How can I protect my children if I have cancer genes?
If you have a cancer gene (such as BRCA), your children are at an increased risk of developing the same or a related cancer. Fortunately, we can help to significantly decrease that risk using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Through PGD, also known as PGT-M, we can detect the cancer gene in embryos and implant only your healthy embryos.
How long after my cancer treatment must I wait before implantation?
This will be determined by your oncologist and will depend on the staging of your cancer and response to treatment.
Will the fertility drugs affect my cancer?
The treatment used for fertility preservation is short, and so far, no negative impact has been observed. Since this is a relatively new area, we continue to update our protocols as new information becomes available.
Once I am ready to get pregnant, how long will the egg thawing procedure take, and what does it involve?
Preparing your uterus for pregnancy takes several weeks. Once you’re ready to have an embryo transfer, we will thaw out the eggs and fertilize them with your partner’s sperm. Embryos resulting from this procedure will be watched in the lab for three to five days. You will then have an embryo transfer, which takes just a few minutes. Extra embryos will be frozen for your future use.
What are the success rates associated with egg freezing?
In the past, there was little success with egg freezing due to the relatively high water content of eggs and the formation of ice crystals that damaged DNA. A newer freezing method, called vitrification, is now routinely done. It allows for better protection of the egg against DNA damage from freezing, and it’s associated with excellent warming survival rates.
How long can my eggs remain frozen?
The viability of your eggs does not decrease with time. However, our program has set the age of 50 as the maximum age to get an embryo transfer from a frozen-thawed egg.
What is the cost of the procedure?
Costs vary significantly and may depend on insurance coverage. We are proud to partner with LIVESTRONG Fertility, which provides reproductive information, support and financial assistance to people with cancer and cancer survivors who seek to preserve their fertility. Learn more about the LIVESTRONG Fertility program.
What are my options if I have unused eggs?
We recommend that you take your time when making a decision regarding your frozen eggs.
Once you’re certain that you no longer have use for the eggs, you may sign a form that allows the lab to discard them. Alternatively, there may be egg donation or research options available that we can discuss with you.