Fertility preservation options for ovarian cancer patients

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the female cancers – and all women are at risk. World Ovarian Cancer Day, observed on 8 May this year, aims to raise awareness of this cancer and its symptoms, because there is no reliable screening test yet, and early detection will save many lives.

At Medfem Fertility Clinic, we add our voices to raise this crucial awareness and contribute vital information about fertility preservation options available that could enable women facing cancer treatment that could result in infertility to still have their own children in future.

At Medfem Fertility Clinic, we believe in what our Dr Tony Rodrigues stated so well: “No one should be deprived of the joyous experience of parenthood because they didn’t get available information on fertility preservation at the critical time of a cancer diagnosis.” Dr Tony is one of Medfem Fertility Clinic’s fertility specialists and director of this world-class fertility clinic in Sandton, Johannesburg.

No one should be deprived of the joyous experience of parenthood because they didn’t get available information on fertility preservation at the critical time of a cancer diagnosis.

– Dr Tony Rodrigues, Medfem Fertility Clinic

Because we believe this, our team wholeheartedly supports World Ovarian Cancer Day, observed in May each year, as the flagship awareness-raising initiative of the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition. 2023 is the second year of the three-year campaign theme “No Woman Left Behind”.

The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition Every Woman Study(tm), which is based on the findings of a survey of over 1,500 women living with ovarian cancer worldwide, found that over two-thirds of women had not heard of ovarian cancer, or knew anything about it, prior to their diagnosis. Raising awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms among women – and clinicians – is especially important as there is no routine, simple screening test to detect ovarian cancer.

What is ovarian cancer

The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition explains that ‘ovarian cancer’ is not a singular diagnosis, rather it is an umbrella term for a multitude of different types of cancer that affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the primary peritoneal cavity. It is estimated that there are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, and there is a very wide variation in incidence and outlook in terms of the different types.

The Coalition says that ovarian cancer is the most lethal of the female cancers and every person assigned female at birth is at risk. While every woman is at risk, ovarian cancer is overlooked and underfunded and there is no reliable screening test. With delays in diagnoses due to this lack of screening and because symptoms are often confused with other, less severe, illness, most people are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread, making it more difficult to treat.

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer

The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition provides the following information about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
* bloating – increased abdominal size / persistent bloating that doesn’t come and go
* eating complications – difficulty eating / feeling full quickly
* pain in pelvic and/or abdominal areas
* urinary symptoms such as urgent or frequent urination.

Occasionally, there can be other symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as:
* changes in bowel habits
* abnormal bleeding (any post-menopausal bleeding should always be checked by your primary health care provider or doctor)
* extreme fatigue
* unexplained weight loss.

Often ovarian cancer symptoms are mistaken for other ailments and causes, as they can be subtle and experienced by women who do not have ovarian cancer. They can also be confused with symptoms of other less severe illnesses, especially gastrointestinal complaints (ex IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome), leading to frequent misdiagnosis.

Most patients are only identified in the advanced stages of the disease when it becomes more difficult to treat.

Impact of cancer on fertility

Cancer treatments on women pose a variety of reproductive risks including immediate infertility, premature menopause, and a compromised ability to carry a pregnancy to term due to cervical or uterine damage.

Chemotherapy and radiation, both common cancer treatments, can cause permanent damage or destroy egg cells and follicles. This can lead to menopause for years after treatment. Other treatments such as surgery to remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterus can drastically impair the ability to become pregnant or carry a baby.

Female fertility preservation

Fertility preservation for women refers to the process of freezing a woman’s eggs, her embryos, or, potentially, her ovarian tissue. This may provide a chance to conceive in the future, should she be unable to conceive on her own.

The most proven and successful method of fertility preservation for women is embryo freezing – or embryo cryopreservation as it is also called. An embryo is an egg that has been fertilised by a sperm. Thanks to modern freezing technology called vitrification, it is possible to freeze these embryos for later use. This involves undergoing IVF, retrieving as many viable eggs as possible, fertilising the eggs in a laboratory, followed by vitrification freezing.

Embryo freezing allows for the storage of unused embryos for an indefinite amount of time. At a future time, a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) can be performed in a simple, short procedure.

With modern freezing techniques and greater experience, results from the transfer of frozen and thawed embryos are now almost as good as those with fresh embryos, so a store of frozen embryos can significantly add to the likelihood of a pregnancy.

Patients who are single or do not have a male partner to provide sperm for the creation of embryos can also consider egg freezing.

Patients who do not have time for ovarian stimulation can consider experimental options such as ovarian tissue freezing which involves the removal, sectioning and freezing of ovarian tissue. These ovarian tissues can later be transplanted to restore hormonal function and for use with IVF.

Where to preserve your fertility

At Medfem Fertility Clinic, our fertility experts have years of experience in freezing or cryopreservation.

This means that we are able to provide you with an expert medical opinion about your current and future reproductive potential. We are also able to provide expert advice regarding your eligibility for egg, embryo or tissue freezing.

We will also be happy to answer your questions about fertility preservation. Given the urgency of fertility preservation following a cancer diagnosis, we try to see all urgent cancer-related cases within 24 hours of having received a referral from your physician.

If you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with cancer that can impact their future fertility, or if you are facing a medical treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery that may affect your fertility, we invite you to contact us.

At Medfem we believe in helping you reach your family dream through:

* World-Class Fertility for Everyone – we believe in making world-class fertility treatments available for everyone
* A Positive Fertility Journey – It is our joy and commitment to give you a positive outcome to your fertility journey
* Delivered With Empathy & Caring – So you may have a fond memory, of a feeling of empathy, caring and being part of the Medfem family

If you would like to meet one of our fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with You During a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.

We look forward to meeting you at Medfem Fertility Clinic!

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