Fertility preservation treatment for women

If your ability to have a baby could be affected by cancer or your treatment, you might be able to store some of your eggs for the future. Other choices might include freezing an embryo (an egg fertilised with your partner’s sperm), or a bit of tissue from one of your ovaries. 

Your options will depend on your individual situation, such as the type of cancer you have and how soon your cancer treatment should start.

If you’re going to freeze some eggs or embryos, the first step is to stimulate your ovaries so they make lots of eggs at once. This is done with hormone injections, which you have every day. Your ovaries will be checked with ultrasound scans. This is usually done through your vagina. You might also have blood tests to monitor your hormone levels. This stage takes at least two weeks. 

Once your eggs are ready, they are collected through a fine needle. This is done through your vagina You’ll be given a heavy sedative first. Afterwards you might feel sore or bruised, have some cramps, or get some bleeding. Your nurse or doctor will tell you more about what to expect, and advise you on how to feel better while you recover.

Then your eggs can be frozen, or used to create an embryo for freezing. If you use your partner’s sperm, you will need his continued permission to use it for a future pregnancy.

You can also ask about the possibility of freezing a small part of your ovary, instead of taking the eggs out right now. The tissue is removed through your abdomen in a short operation, and frozen for future use. This is done under a general anaesthetic so you sleep through it. There are no stitches to remove, and this method should not delay the start of your cancer treatment. This procedure is available in just a few hospitals so if you are interested, ask if your team can refer you. This technology is new and is seen as being in development: more than 80 babies have been born this way, worldwide. 

Sharing your worries

Fertility preservation treatment can be difficult and it’s natural if you feel worried, scared, or embarrassed about the procedure. The fertility specialist should do their best to put you at ease during the treatment. It can help to remember this is something they do every day. Your cancer care team will also understand your concerns and can help you manage them. Sharing your worries with a friend, partner or someone you’re close to can also help. 

Find out more

To find out what happens if you want to have a baby later on, check out our information on having a baby after cancer treatment.

Published: December 2016
Review due: December 2019