Focus on Women

Life after cancer: The role of oncofertility

Imagine fighting and beating cancer—only to lose your ability to have children.

For many years, this was a quiet—and heartbreaking—side effect for young cancer survivors.

Due to breakthroughs in medical technology and more aggressive forms of cancer treatment, today most young people diagnosed with cancer survive. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of every 250 adults is a survivor of childhood cancer. For these survivors, permanent or temporary loss of fertility can be commonly caused by cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.

Oncofertility is a recent field in medicine that focuses on preserving fertility in young patients undergoing cancer treatment.

“Quality of life after cancer depends on the ability to move on with life and normal function, and that includes having children,” said Dr. Larisa Gavrilova-Jordan, a director of the oncofertility program at Augusta University Health. “Oncofertility has become one of the major measures of quality of care for young adults with cancer.”

Oncofertility: What’s it all about?

Available at only about 71 centers across the United States, oncofertility services give young people diagnosed with cancer the opportunity to discuss fertility preservation measures before they ever start cancer treatments.

It’s a fresh start for these cancer patients, many of whom may have thought that having a family would be next to impossible—and prohibitively costly—after surviving cancer.

“That was an important part of what we started here,” said Gavrilova-Jordan, who helped to launch the oncofertility program at Augusta University Health in 2014. “We worked intensely to have the ability to provide readily accessible and affordable, discounted services—including free medications—through our partnership with national programs.”

At Augusta University Health, the oncofertility program provides individualized strategies to meet the unique needs of each patient, while implementing new technologies into clinical practice. Its services include:

  • Banking sperm for men
  • Banking eggs for women
  • Banking embryos (in vitro fertilization) for women with a male partner
  • Surgical ovarian reposition prior to pelvic radiation (to minimize exposure)
  • Medical ovarian suppression prior to chemotherapy (to help protect ovarian function)

In July 2014, the first cancer patient utilized the new oncofertility program at Augusta University Health. A young woman with breast cancer who was recently married underwent emergent IVF and stored her embryos prior to chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This year, the couple was ready to have a child using a gestational carrier.

With a successful conception after a single embryo transfer, the family is eagerly awaiting their baby’s arrival in January 2018.

“These days, early cancer diagnosis and treatment have enabled many children and young adults to survive cancer successfully,” Gavrilova-Jordan said. “However, our medical care mission is to look into these patients’ futures. A key part of the multidisciplinary approach to care for cancer patients is to provide access for fertility preservation before cancer treatments. It’s remarkable and so rewarding to enable these young people to turn the page after cancer and move on with their normal adult life: having happy families and much-desired children.”

You have options—and we’re here to help

Call us at 706-722-4434, or visit augustahealth.org/infertility.

To learn about our women’s health services and providers, call us at 706-721-4959, or visit augustahealth.org/women.

About the author

Augusta University Health

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.

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