Many health concerns and their treatment, including cancer, genetic disorders and autoimmune diseases, may affect fertility. If you intend to have children, it's important to know how a disease or disorder may affect your reproductive abilities — especially before you begin treatment. There are a number of alternatives for men and women facing health concerns or treatment that may compromise fertility. 

  • Egg freezing — Women at risk of ovarian failure from cancer treatment or medical conditions can have their unfertilized eggs preserved for later use.
  • Medication — If doctors determine that chemotherapy would damage a woman’s ovaries, medication may be used to temporarily shut down ovarian function, making them less susceptible to chemotherapy drugs.
  • In vitro fertilization — IVF uses an egg and sperm to create an embryo outside the woman's body. Embryos can be frozen and not  transferred to the woman’s uterus until after she has completed treatment.
  • Ovary transposition — To prevent damaging the ovaries during cancer radiation therapy, surgery can be performed to move the ovaries out of the way of the radiation beam.
  • Sperm freezing — Cryopreservation is a safe and effective means for preserving a man's sperm before cancer or other medical treatment.
  • Testicular tissue freezing — For men who can no longer produce sperm or ejaculate, sperm can be retrieved from testicular tissue. The tissue can be removed and frozen until a man is ready for a child.

LiveStrong Fertility Discount Program

The Reproductive Medicine Center participates in the LiveStrong Fertility Discount Program, helping individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer retain the hope of future fertility, regardless of financial means. The LiveStrong program helps defray the costs of fertility preservation for qualified men and women who are Froedtert & MCW cancer patients. For more information, please ask your fertility provider.

Preserving Fertility After a Cancer Diagnosis

For patients and families who are going through treatment for cancers or blood disorders, it’s important to understand when the treatment or diseases process creates risk or the potential to harm fertility.

For adolescent and young adult patients, we offer the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program (AYA), in partnership with Children’s Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin, to ensure our patients and their families have the information they need to make the best decisions for their future and their family. For adolescent patients seen at Children’s Wisconsin and adult patients seen by the Froedtert & MCW health network, fertility discussion is ongoing from diagnosis through survivorship care.

Fertility preservation options may be available to consider for both male and female patients, before or after treatment ends. The below videos help outline the fertility consultation and preservation process for male and female patients, including the role of the CHW fertility nurse navigator for adolescent and young adult patients.

Fertility Preservation for Cancer Patients

Stephanie Gunderson, MD, Froedtert & MCW fertility specialist, talks about treatment options for fertility preservation in patients that have a new diagnosis of cancer - including sperm freezing, egg freezing, embryo freezing and medical ways that we can preserve your fertility and how to facilitate discussion between you and your oncology team.

Patients who are undergoing cancer therapy often times undergo radiation or chemotherapy. Both of these treatment opportunities target rapidly dividing cells like cancer cells. There are rapidly dividing cells that are normal cells within our body, and some of those cells are in the sperm and testicle and within the eggs and the ovary themselves. This is how cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can impact egg and sperm numbers.

Sperm Freezing

Sperm freezing is done at our facility at the Reproductive Medicine Center at North Hills Health Center. Sperm can be collected either in an inpatient setting and be couriered over to our facility. It can also be collected at home and brought to our clinic within an hour of collection. Alternatively, it can be collected at our facility and private collection rooms. The sperm is then analyzed and frozen for later use. Andrologists, who are important members of our laboratory team, will assess the sperm for its viability and freeze the sperm that day. They will then call you with what opportunities will be available to you for future use.

Egg Freezing

Individuals who are assigned female at birth have the opportunity to freeze eggs. As females, we are born with as many eggs as we are ever going to have. We go through them as we begin to menstruate, and by the time we have reached menopause we've essentially run out of those eggs. Any type of chemotherapy or radiation can impact those number of eggs that we have remaining, leading to infertility post cancer treatment.

Egg freezing is an opportunity that individuals have here at the Reproductive Medicine Center at Froedtert & MCW North Hills Health Center. Egg freezing is a process. It requires 10 to 14 days of subcutaneous injections, which means underneath the skin of the abdomen, that an individual administers themselves at home. During that 10 to 14 days, that individual is in our office almost every other day for an ultrasound watching those follicles which are the houses of the eggs grow and having blood work done to watch their estrogen levels rise. It takes 10 to 14 days to grow those eggs to maturity.

After those 10 to 14 days, individuals undergo an egg retrieval. Egg retrievals are done here at the North Hills Health Center, the Reproductive Medicine Center, with anesthesiologists that come to put you to sleep. You will not remember or feel anything. Ultrasounds are done that guide a small needle through the vagina into the ovaries and aspirate those eggs. Any mature eggs that are available and retrieved will be frozen for your later use. Alternatively, individuals do have the ability to create embryos after those eggs are retrieved. Sperm from either a partner or a donor can be used to fertilize those mature eggs and create embryos that can be frozen for later use.

Medical Opportunities Available for Fertility Preservation

This is another opportunity that is available to individuals that are assigned female at birth. This is a subcutaneous injection, again underneath the skin of the abdomen, that is given monthly to suppress ovarian function — egg development and hormonal development — as well as to suppress menstrual cycles from occurring during treatment.

This option quiets the ovary, therefore, decreasing the blood flow that the ovary sees and theoretically decreasing the exposure that the ovary has to chemotherapeutic agents. There is data suggesting that this option is not our best option. Sometimes, it's our only option, and if that is the case, this might be the right treatment option for you. However, we recommend that patients consider egg or embryo cryopreservation as well.