The purpose of oocyte cryopreservation is to provide a means for preserving female fertility prior to chemotherapy, radiotherapy or oophorectomy in both cancer and non-cancer situations. Eggs can be cryopreserved by freezing individual eggs after ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. This procedure is considered experimental and is performed under an IRB-approved protocol established in 2005. We offer this service as part of our relationship with FertileHope, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping cancer patients faced with infertility.
Approximately 50,000 women under the age of 40 develop an invasive form of cancer every year. Patients who undergo chemotherapy frequently lose ovarian function even though they survive the cancer. Certain agents are more damaging to the ovary. Using GnRH analog pretreatment and intratreatment may help preserve fertility and/or ovarian function with some agents, but there is still a risk of loss. Patients who undergo therapy for other benign systemic diseases as well as oophorectomy for benign ovarian conditions may also lose ovarian function.
Established assisted reproductive technologies available to the female cancer patient include embryo cryopreservation. With embryo cryopreservation, an In Vitro Fertilization cycle is organized where the patient is prepared for stimulation, oocytes are collected and fertilized and the resulting embryos are cryopreserved for future use. Embryo cryopreservation is therefore, not an option for the single patient. In addition, many cancer patients do not have the available time needed for an In Vitro Fertilization cycle prior to the start of chemotherapy medication. In addition, the stimulation medication necessary for an In Vitro Fertilization cycle may have damaging effects on the tumor through increased levels of estrogen. Although considered experimental, other procedures for female fertility preservation are quickly evolving. These procedures include freezing the cortex tissue of the ovary and freezing oocytes retrieved from the ovary, allowing the potential “backup” in these circumstances. Births have occurred as a result of both of these procedures. Worldwide over 1,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs, with about 400 of this in the United States, and over ten from frozen tissue. Since embryos are not created, ovarian tissue and oocyte cryopreservation accommodates the single patient. Also, ovarian tissue cryopreservation does not involve the time constraints or stimulation medication associated with an In Vitro Fertilization cycle for embryo cryopreservation. Consideration for ovarian tissue or oocyte cryopreservation will take place after consultation with the patients’ oncologist prior to chemotherapy, radiotherapy or related treatment. Ovarian tissue freezing is not offered at our facility.