Last Modified: May 7, 2012
I'm getting radiation for rectal cancer and am concerned about being able to have children after treatment. What should I do before I start treatment to make sure my fertility is preserved? Can it be preserved?
Maggie Hampshire, RN, Oncology Nurse at Penn Medicine, responds:
There are a few possibilities to help you stay fertile after your treatment. You did not specify whether you are a man or a woman, so I will address both. Unfortunately the options for women are more involved and require a bit of timing. In general it can be easier for men due to sperm donation which is quite simple. Most of the techniques for women can result in some delays of treatment, which may not be a good option, although you should definitely ask your doctor as soon as possible.
One option if you have not had your surgery yet is called Oophoropexy (Ovarian Transposition). Basically, one ovary is surgically moved to another area out of the radiation field. This is usually done in with the actual surgery for the cancer, but can be done by a laparoscopic surgery for women who do not require other surgery. Another option for women is egg or embryo freezing (cryopreservation). This option requires quite a bit of time since it requires multiple doses of egg stimulating drugs and then a collection of the eggs. This can take weeks and may cause a delay in treatment; your physician can tell you if it is a good option for you. A third option is ovarian tissue preservation. It is still somewhat investigational stages. One good thing is that it might be better for girls who have not reached puberty.
All of these techniques require time and money. There are good resources to help you decide which option is right for you. You can go to Fertile Hope www.fertilehope.org.
This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entiretranscript from the Focus on GI Cancers webchat.