As with many complex issues, the only truthful response to the question of whether or not you can get pregnant after ovarian cancer is: it depends. The main factors relate to the severity of the cancer and its subsequent treatment plan. This could involve chemotherapy and/or different types of surgery, with each of these circumstances putting a different angle on the possible solutions to pregnancy after cancer treatment.
Again, as for most complex issues, there is very often a solution. At IVI we have a whole range of expertise and programmes available, all backed up by ground-breaking research into new techniques and treatments. Your best option for preservation of fertility could be through the vitrification of oocytes, freezing of the ovarian cortex, in vitro maturation of oocytes or through egg donation. In this article, we take a look at these scenarios and the conditions in which they could provide the most appropriate treatment.
What are the different treatments for ovarian cancer?
It’s quite understandable that for someone going through the trauma of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, their chances of getting pregnant may be the last thing on their mind. But for a woman diagnosed at a time when she is wanting to start a family, or who is fairly sure she will want to in the future, the fear of infertility could be an added burden to an already very distressing situation. Any reassurance that can lighten the load could be a huge help.
The treatment you are prescribed in the event of ovarian cancer could involve chemotherapy, which could damage your ovaries. In the event of surgery, your ovaries or the uterus could be removed. In some cases, it is possible to preserve your reproductive organs, in this instance, you could remain naturally fertile. There is, however, still a risk that subsequent chemotherapy could damage your remaining reproductive organs as well as increasing the chances of early menopause.
The chances of a pregnancy success after having cancer also depends on the time you have between being diagnosed to when you start your cancer treatment/surgery as the time restrictions may affect the type of fertility preservation treatment available.
This technique is a variant of the basic IVF process in which the first stage is ovarian stimulation to encourage the production of more eggs than the normal one per month. Once the eggs have been collected, instead of being mixed with sperm to create embryos, they are vitrified. To do that a cryoprotective substance is used to treat the eggs which are then stored in liquid nitrogen at very low temperature. If you would like to find out more about the techniques involved, have a look at the video about vitrification of oocytes on the IVI YouTube channel.
For cancer patients, factors affecting the potential success of this treatment are the age of the patient, the ovarian reserve, as well as how much time is available before the start of a cancer treatment. After the patient has completed their cancer treatment, the eggs are thawed and the IVF process is resumed at a time of the patient’s choosing. In this way, although there is no guarantee, there is a good chance of achieving pregnancy after ovarian cancer, whereas in the past the likelihood was very slim.
Freezing of the ovarian cortex
When normal IVF is ruled out due to medical reasons there are still other possibilities such as freezing the ovarian cortex. This technique involves cryopreservation of the ovarian cortex rather than of oocytes. It has already been used as a method of fertility preservation and has resulted in more than 150 births worldwide. Its aim is to restore ovarian function to allow for a spontaneous pregnancy.
This technique is particularly appropriate for patients who need their chemotherapy treatment to begin immediately, leaving no time for ovarian stimulation. This method is often favoured when dealing with pre-pubescent cancer patients. On the other hand, it is not the technique of choice in most of the ovarian cancers, since there is a little risk of reintroduction of malignant cells.
In vitro maturation of oocytes
Another possibility in cases where there is no time for ovarian stimulation is in vitro maturation of oocytes (IVM). In this technique, undeveloped eggs are recovered and cultivated until they reach maturity. This makes it a valuable alternative to the usual IVF cycle and is now considered a potential complement to standard IVF and to obtaining ovarian tissue for cryopreservation.
Unfortunately for some ovarian oncologic patients, they will not be able to become pregnant using their own eggs. If this is the case, there is still the prospect of pregnancy after ovarian cancer through donated eggs. You can familiarise yourself with the facts about this assisted reproduction method on our website, where you can also read about our method to select the most suitable donor for each individual patient.
Looking to the future with IVI
As oncological treatments get better and cancer survival rates continue to improve, more and more women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have the chance to plan for a future that includes starting or extending their family. By the same token, at IVI we remain at the forefront of research into new techniques and refinements of existing procedures in response to our patients’ needs. Our website carries all the up-to-date news and statistics about our work, for example this blog article on the latest research in fertility preservation.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues and how they may be relevant to your own experience, do get in touch. You can call us on 0800 52 00 161 from the UK or +34 960 451 185 from other countries, or use our confidential online contact form and we will be in touch.