Fertility preservation: how and why

thumbnail-3In recent years, the topic of fertility preservation has come up more and more. At CRGH, we do offer fertility preservation for both men and women, but what does this mean?

Fertility preservation helps patients retain their fertility for a future time and includes options such as egg freezing, sperm freezing, and embryo freezing. Traditionally, fertility preservation has been done for medical reasons but thanks to advances in modern medicine, more and more people are opting for fertility preservation for social reasons.

Why

In many cases, infertility is a side effect of life-saving cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. Many cancer treatments are so effective that most patients come through the illness but without the ability to have children. That’s where fertility preservation comes in. If they are able to freeze their eggs, sperm, or embryos, their hopes for a family in the future don’t have to be dashed.

Patients undergoing fertility preservation due to medical reasons should speak to us right away – depending on the type of treatment, fertility could be damaged by just one cancer treatment.

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Sometimes, there are no medical reasons for seeking fertility preservation. Until recently, success rate for fertility preservation were fairly low, making it reserved for those with medical issues. Social issues for women and men to opt for fertility preservation might include time – a patient may be more school or career focused right now and wants the option to have children later on. Or, a couple may simply not be ready for a baby at the moment. The social reasons vary from patient to patient. The HFEA’s 2014 Fertility Trends Report cited absence of partner as the most commonly cited reason for women freezing their eggs for non-medical reasons.

How

There are a few different ways to preserve fertility depending on the situation – egg freezing, sperm freezing, and embryo freezing.

If a woman wants to have her eggs frozen, she’ll need to give herself fertility injections to stimulate her ovaries to get the maximum amount of eggs during the harvest. This goes on for a period of 12-14 days and will include visits to the clinic for blood work and scans to see how her body responds to the fertility drugs. During the harvest, eggs are removed and subsequently frozen and stored for future use.

For men, the process is usually a lot simpler. Men will provide sperm samples through masturbation or, in some cases, surgical sperm retrieval. From that point, the sperm will be frozen and stored for future use.

When freezing embryos, the process is similar to simply freezing eggs or sperm, but the couple will also undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and the embryos will be frozen shortly thereafter. If a woman is undergoing embryonic freezing on her own, her eggs may be fertilised with donor sperm.

In theory, eggs, sperm, and embryos can be frozen indefinitely, but UK regulations apply, and most often they are stored for up to 10 years unless the patient has a medical condition.

At CRGH, we have had a very high success rate of live births with patients undergoing fertility preservation. If this is something that interests you, be sure to speak to your specialist and we’ll be happy to advise.