If you are about to start chemotherapy, please make your doctors aware if fertility is important to you!
I was at a conference recently where fertility was discussed by a couple of physicians who are passionate about helping cancer patients preserve their fertility. The physician who works with men told us how incredibly frustrating it is when he meets a man who did not bank sperm before his treatments. Some men just aren't told that this is an option. It is a fast and inexpensive option, and sometimes sperm banks will offer discounted or free rates for cancer patients who cannot afford the fee. The physician went so far as to say that he believes that all young men should bank sperm, even if they don't believe that they will want kids later. For young teens who do not want to deal with the sperm banking process, it can be done under general anesthesia. If sperm are not banked, there are a few ways to try and gain fertility, but they are much more invasive and less effective than sperm banking. Even if a man has a zero sperm count, there are still things that can be tried!!! So if you have any questions after chemo, look into it.
The physician who presented about women's fertility options provided a lot of great information. Afterward, I asked him a question: "Many of the young adults I deal with are diagnosed with sarcoma. It can take months for them to get the correct diagnosis, and by the time that they do, they are often told that they need to start chemotherapy immediately. This usually means that women are not given any fertility preservation options. I am wondering if the doctors truly believe that a few weeks delay is too much of a threat to all of these patients' lives, or if they just don't understand how important fertility is to many women, and thus don't make it a priority themselves?"
The doctor said that in most cases, delaying chemotherapy by about three weeks, which is all that is required to do a quick cycle of IVF, is very possible. But this requires a speedy referral to the right fertility specialist (usually a call made from your oncologist or social worker to the clinic explaining the urgency of the situation). Some physicians just aren't familiar enough with the options for women, or their priorities. If a woman is not in the right part of her cycle for IVF, she will need to take one week of medication to change her cycle, and then a couple of weeks of hormones, and then they can take some eggs for IVF. The eggs can be joined together with sperm and then frozen, which is standard IVF. But there is also a new procedure for those women who have not met their love yet - the eggs can be frozen by themselves for use at a later time when the right man is around. While none of these methods are guarantees, they do provide hope! Of course, every woman is different, and every sarcoma case is different. As we have discussed here before, some sarcomas may respond to hormone levels in the body, which might muddle the waters when making this decision. Ideally, women who want to preserve fertility will quickly educate themselves about the potential options, and will ask questions about the urgency of their case verses the benefits of IVF.
There is a lot more information at Fertile Hope