When Andrea McCarthy was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2011, one of her first thoughts was of the family she and her husband, Ben Hargrave, had just begun planning.
"I couldn't imagine living my life not being a mom," said McCarthy.
Cancer treatment can sometimes leave patients infertile. However, as cancer treatment leads to better outcomes and longer life expectancy, the ability to have a family post-cancer has become more important to patients.
This has created a new focus for fertility experts, combining oncology and fertility with the goal of fertility preservation.
"The ability to not sacrifice their reproductive capabilities because of side effects of the treatment for various kinds of cancer," said reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Dr. Bobby Webster.
Thanks to recent advancements in freezing techniques, women diagnosed with cancer now have the option of freezing eggs or embryos before beginning treatment to preserve her chance of conceiving later.
The process is similar to traditional in vitro fertilization. A woman takes hormone medication to increase egg production. Eggs are then harvested and frozen, either fertilized or unfertilized, until the patient is ready and able to carry a pregnancy.
Cancer treatment is only delayed a few weeks.
"The ability to freeze eggs and embryos has improved dramatically over the last five years to the point that frozen embryos success rates are as good as fresh," said Webster.
Webster and his colleague, reproductive biologist and physiologist Dr. Richard Cochran, want to spread the word. Both say that biggest challenge is educating women and couples about all of their options.
McCarthy and her husband decided to freeze embryos before she underwent six months of chemo and radiation treatment. Now fully recovered, the couple decided they were ready to be parents and went back to see Webster. McCarthy is now nearly 16 weeks pregnant.
"It's still surreal. We're still getting around to telling everyone," said McCarthy.
Webster says that age, the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer are all major factors that can affect the success of the procedure. He says men diagnosed with cancer also have the option of freezing their sperm before treatment.
The procedure is not covered by insurance, and ranges from $12,000 to $15,000.
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