The diagnosis of cancer and/or another life threatening and changing disease can be devastating. Facing the loss of one’s health coupled with fear of the unknown, all the while needing to make decisions big and small about what best course of action is needed to achieve the best result, leaves little time for anything else. Women in their childbearing years can be particularly affected as some of the treatments can destroy all or many of a woman’s eggs. Since women do not make eggs after they are born, these women lose the ability to have a child that is genetically theirs.
On Monday August 27th 2018, Illinois passed a law providing healthcare insurance to cover the cost of fertility preservation for women undergoing medical treatment that might make them sterile. Thankfully, advances in the treatment of many forms of cancer have permitted many patients with cancer to live longer and often normal lives. This ‘allows’ women (and men) to consider planning for the future including having a family.
Advances in the field of cryobiology, the field of freezing human tissues, have permitted freezing of human eggs. Human embryos (a fertilized egg) have been successfully cryopreserved for many years. The process requires the woman to undergo IVF which means she takes fertility medications to promote the growth of many eggs. When the eggs are mature, they are removed by a simple surgical proceed, much like a biopsy. The eggs can then be frozen or if the woman chooses, sperm can be injected into the eggs and the resulting embryos can be stored. Cryopreserved tissue can be stored for hundreds of years without losing the ability to produce healthy children, from what we know at this time. Approved by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) as a non-experimental means of preserving fertility, today, egg freezing offers another option for women who are looking for added assurance in preserving their fertility, particularly in the face of illness. Egg freezing, as opposed to embryo freezing, also allows a woman to proceed without a partner in her life.
The optimal number of eggs needed to create a child has not been accurately determined but seems to be more than nine mature eggs. Stimulation protocols have been developed which allow the stimulation and retrieval to be done in under three weeks and it does not matter where a woman is in her menstrual cycle. Protocols have also been developed to limit the amount of estrogen a woman produces during the stimulation process which can be used when a woman has an estrogen or progesterone susceptible tumor. This allows women who are interested in fertility preservation, to go through an IVF cycle, in the short space of time following diagnosis and prior to beginning chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
The physicians at RMI have extensive experience with cryopreservation of embryos, sperm, and now eggs. "Egg Freezing is one of the most innovative technologies available to our patients," says Elena Trukhacheva, President and Medical Director for Reproductive Medicine Institute (www.teamrmi.com), with offices throughout Chicagoland. "It certainly can 'buy' some time, and offer a previously unavailable option, particularly in the cases of fertility preservation prior to chemotherapy, which can affect the quantity and quality of eggs. We are grateful that the State of Illinois has agreed to fund treatment that will give patients a chance, where once none existed."