I just finished taking care of two cancer patients that desired to freeze embryos for the future. Of course, the first question those of us without cancer ask is whether they will live to see that future. And the answer is an overwhelming “Yes” for a high percentage of these patients. We have gotten much better as patients at detecting early signs of cancer, as physicians at treating cancer aggressively, and as a community at supporting and helping cancer survivors live long fulfilling lives. None of us know when our life will end, but for many diagnosed with cancer, they now know what they have to fight against. But that does not mean we have to give up the dreams we have of having a family.
New studies are emerging every day of how patients with cancer fare in fertility treatment and in pregnancy. Many patients have chosen to undergo an IVF cycle and harvest a “bunch” of eggs. These eggs can be cryopreseved (vitrified at RSC) to be thawed and inseminated with sperm in the future when they are ready to conceive (after having kicked cancer good bye!). Other patients, like the ones I treated recently, have a husband and so decided to freeze embryos where we can predict with greater certainty the likelihood of a pregnancy in the future. Frozen embryos also survive extremely well in our center–97 percent survival at the blastocyst stage with around 50 percent pregnancy rate if two blasts are thawed and transferred. Some patients have even chosen to use donor sperm to freeze embryos, but the better we have become at egg freezing means we do this less.
An article in the May 2010 OB GYN news quotes Dr. Hatem who recently published a meta-analysis of breast cancer survivors who went on to become pregnant showing a 42 percent decrease in incidence of dying compared with women who did not get pregnant. Of course, studies like this may have a bias of observing more healthy women who then choose to get pregnant compared to less healthy peers. But none the less, it is very reassuring for women who want to use fertility treatment or frozen embryos after their cancer is cured.
In SFgate.com last week there was an article by the woman who started Fertile Hope (Fertility preservation helps women beyond cancer). If you have cancer and haven’t checked out this organization yet, you should. In a recent partnership with the Lance Armstrong foundation, Fertile Hope can provide information, support and even free medicine for cancer patients planning fertility treatment.