Fertility preservation for women and girls

Fertility preservation means collecting and storing the sperm, eggs or embryos that you will need to start a pregnancy. If cancer treatment damages your fertility, these can be used with fertility treatments to help you try for a baby in the future.

Your cancer doctor may arrange for you to talk to a specialist fertility doctor about this. They will be able to explain what preservation involves. If you decide to have fertility preservation, this is usually done at a fertility clinic.

Storing eggs or embryos

If your periods have started, it may be possible to store your eggs before cancer treatment begins. This process takes at least two weeks and involves:

  • taking fertility drugs that make your ovaries produce more eggs
  • having blood tests and ultrasounds to check the eggs in the ovaries
  • collecting the eggs (we have more information about collecting eggs that you may find helpful).

Once your eggs have been collected, you can:

  • have the unfertilised eggs stored and frozen
  • or, fertilise the eggs with sperm from your partner or a sperm donor – if suitable embryos develop, these can then be frozen.

It is important to know that if your partner has provided sperm to fertilise the eggs, he has equal rights in deciding what happens to the embryos in the future. This means that if he withdraws the right for you to use the embryos (for example, if you split up or he changes his mind), you will not be able to use them.

Fertility preservation was a stressful experience, but necessary. So I persevered and now have 15 lovely eggs stored and ready for when or if I need them.

Jenna

Storing tissue from an ovary

Before cancer treatment starts, doctors can remove an ovary, or small pieces of your ovary, using keyhole surgery. These are frozen and stored. The pieces of ovary contain thousands of immature eggs.

If you decide to try for a baby after cancer treatment, the pieces of ovary can be put back into your body.

This method may be helpful if:

  • cancer treatment needs to start quickly
  • you can’t have fertility drugs
  • you have not reached puberty yet.

This is a newer technique that is still being researched. It is not widely available in the UK, and only a few babies in the world have been born using this approach.

The process of collecting eggs scared me more than the thought of having treatment! But it was worth it to know that I've got some eggs saved if I'm unable to get pregnant naturally.

Eleanor