“Oncofertility” Gives Cancer Patients New Hope

breast cancer awareness

According to the American Cancer Society 140,230 patients under the age of 45 will receive a diagnosis of cancer this year. While chemotherapy and other regimens can damage a patient’s chances at fertility, many oncologists are seeking the guidance of reproductive endocrinologists before sending their patients to treatment. Those in the medical field are referring to this as "oncofertility", a new discipline that bridges oncology and reproductive medicine.

"I really appreciated there were so many advances in cancer therapy, yet so many young survivors were ending up sterilized," said Teresa Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. "There was a real need for a focus specifically in this field."

When Michele Foust, 26, received a diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer this spring; she immediately became concerned over what cancer would take away from her, including whether or not she could have children.  Her breast surgeon contacted doctors at a fertility clinic, and set up an appointment to begin the egg freezing process.

"It was amazing that they could actually do this, safely. At the same time, you never think as a 26-year-old that the ability to bear children — something I was looking forward to — will be taken away from you," said Foust, an emergency room nurse.

A growing number of doctors agree that the hormones used to stimulate egg production before retrieval, will not increase the likelihood of developing certain cancers. According to Neelima Denduluri, a breast medical oncologist at Virginia Hospital Center, after 3 to 5 years of tamoxifen, a hormone drug used with breast cancer patients, pregnancy is deemed safe.

During her retrieval process, Foust’s doctors were able to freeze 15 eggs. She is currently going through eight rounds of chemotherapy, but knowing that her fertility is preserved gives her peace of mind.

"I remember seeing a picture in my breast surgeon's office that has a list of things that cancer cannot do," she said. "And I wanted that to include that it couldn't take a pregnancy away from us. Even if we never use the eggs or get pregnant on our own, it would be a blessing. I refer to my frozen eggs as my pocketful of sunshine."

October 15, 2013 Posted by Jenn Nixon

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