If you have cancer, or are going to have cancer treatment that could affect your fertility, having fertility preservation treatment might allow you to have children in the future. This treatment often needs to happen quite quickly, before you have cancer treatment, which means you may have to make a decision with limited time.
Fertility preservation treatment may or may not be the right choice for you, but you’ll get a better sense of this by getting the information and exploring your options as best you can.
Talk to your nurse or doctor, as they can help you explore the possibilities. Having this open and frank discussion, and helping you access appropriate fertility preservation treatment, is seen as an important part of good cancer care.
Before you start cancer treatment, your consultant should talk with you about your future ability to have children. You can also bring up the subject yourself and ask any questions that are on your mind.
You should have a chance to learn about the possible options for helping you have children later on. This often means freezing your eggs, ovary tissue or sperm.
Your parents or partner can be there for this discussion, if you want. But you can ask to talk about this issue in private, if you prefer.
All kinds of feelings can come up about parenthood and fertility preservation treatment, and you should be able to get the help you need to handle this.
Some people decide not to have fertility preservation treatment. It is not guaranteed to work, and you might have other reasons of your own for choosing not to go through the process. If you hear the facts and choose not to go ahead, that’s OK. It’s your decision. If you feel pressure from other people, then talk to your cancer care team who can help you handle this.
If you decide you want to try it, or if you want to learn more by talking to an expert, your cancer team can refer you to a specialist fertility clinic. This should happen quickly so any delay to your cancer treatment is minimised. Sometimes you can have fertility preservation treatment in the time between waiting for test results and the start of your cancer treatment.
Routine blood tests
The first step is having some routine blood tests for possible infections. Your cancer team will collect a blood sample to be tested for hepatitis B and C, and for HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).
This doesn’t mean your team is making any assumptions about your lifestyle, or that they think you have these conditions. These tests are always done for everyone who wants to store eggs, ovary tissue, embryos or sperm, whatever their age or circumstances.
The purpose is to help with handling and storage: if a person has one of these infections, extra safety measures are needed.
Before you start fertility preservation treatment, there are a lot of forms to fill in and sign. This paperwork is required by law. A counsellor or health professional will talk you through the forms in detail. The purpose is to make sure your eggs, ovary tissue, embryos or sperm are stored and used the way you want.
There are tough questions to think about and it can be upsetting, especially if this conversation comes up unexpectedly. That said, some people take it in their stride. It helps to know these are routine questions for everyone having fertility preservation treatment, not just for people with cancer.
You’ll be asked what should happen to your eggs or sperm in the future, if you become unable to make decisions or speak for yourself. You’ll also be asked what should happen to your samples if you die. These questions are asked because it’s important that your wishes are known, written down and respected.
If you freeze an embryo, permission is needed from both partners at every stage, including if you want to use it in the future.
Once these routines are finished, what happens next depends on whether you are a woman or a man.
Is it free on the NHS?
When it comes to fertility preservation treatment, the rules for NHS funding depend on where you live. Whether you are eligible may also depend on individual circumstances, such as whether you already have a child. You may have to pay for some parts of your fertility preservation treatment. Ask your healthcare team what funding is available in your area, so you know where you stand.
Published: December 2016
Review due: December 2019