Medfem Supports International Cancer Survivors Day on 7 June
In June each year, our team at Medfem is delighted to observe International Cancer Survivors Day, joining millions of people around the world in celebrating the immense achievement of cancer survivors, who inspire us all by being living proof that cancer can be beaten.
We are also very proud of the role our team plays in providing those who are facing cancer the hope of preserving their fertility, and in assisting those who have beaten cancer to live their best lives, including having their own family. This year on 7 June, we want to remind all those affected by cancer that there is hope – even hope of having a family after cancer treatment – thanks to fertility preservation options for men and women, as well as advanced fertility treatments.
One out of four people will be affected by cancer in their lifetime in South Africa, according to CANSA. This frightening disease that exacts an immense toll on patients, including in many cases the loss of fertility after treatment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths. The most common cancers are breast cancer (2.26 million cases), lung cancer (2.21 million cases), colon and rectum cancers (1.93 million cases), prostate cancer (1.41 million cases); skin (non-melanoma) cancer (1.20 million cases) and stomach cancer (1.09 million cases). Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in 23 countries.
Of these, the most common causes of cancer deaths in 2020 were lung cancer (1.80 million deaths); colon and rectum cancer (916 000 deaths); liver cancer (830 000 deaths); stomach cancer (769 000 deaths); and breast cancer (685 000 deaths).
These and other cancers are caused by:
* physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation;
* chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, alcohol, aflatoxin (a food contaminant), and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant); and
* biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
Cancer can often be prevented!
What is most sobering is that so many cancers can be cured if detected early and treated effectively.
In fact, based on current scientific evidence, at least 40% of all cancer cases could be prevented with effective primary prevention measures, and further mortality can be reduced through early detection of tumours.
For example, around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity. Cancer-causing infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis, are responsible for approximately 30% of cancer cases . These cancers can also be prevented by early detection and effective, timely treatment.
In the meantime, each year, millions of men and women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully most of cancer patients face good prospects for survival thanks to cancer treatments.
Cancer and infertility
Sadly, one of the unfortunate side effects of cancer treatment is permanent infertility.
The likelihood that cancer treatment will harm a person’s fertility depends on a number of factors, including the type of cancer; the type of treatment required; the patient’s age at the time of treatment; and the person’s pre-cancer fertility status.
For women, cancer treatments pose a variety of risks to their reproductive capabilities. Cancer treatments could result in immediate infertility for women, or premature menopause, or, a compromised ability to carry a pregnancy to term because of damage to the cervix or uterus.
For example, chemotherapy and radiation, both common cancer treatments, can cause permanent damage to or destroy eggs and follicles (egg sacks). This can lead to menopause for years after treatment. Other cancer treatments such as surgery to remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterus, can drastically impair the ability to become pregnant or carry a baby.
A man’s fertility can be harmed by the surgical removal of the testicles or by chemotherapy or radiation that damages sperm quantity, quality or DNA, and can cause azoospermia. It is strongly recommended that sperm are collected prior to initiation of treatment because the quality of the sample and sperm DNA integrity may be compromised even after a single cancer treatment session.
Fortunately, advances in both fertility preservation and infertility treatments are occurring at a rapid rate and presents viable options for cancer patients.
Options available before cancer treatment
Options available to women before cancer treatment includes embryo freezing, egg freezing and ovarian tissue freezing.
Embryo freezing is the most proven and successful method of fertility preservation for women facing cancer treatment. This involves undergoing IVF, retrieving as many viable eggs as possible and fertilising these eggs in a laboratory, before freezing the embryos using vitrification.
For single women or those who who do not have sperm for the creation of embryos, egg freezing is an option. The eggs can be thawed and fertilised at a later time using sperm from a partner or donor.
Women who do not have time for the ovarian stimulation required for embryo or egg freezing before cancer treatment commences, can consider experimental options such as ovarian tissue freezing. This involves the removal, sectioning and freezing of ovarian tissue, which can later be transplanted to restore hormonal function or for use with IVF.
To preserve male fertility before cancer treatment, a highly effective technique called sperm cryopreservation or freezing is used.
Options available after cancer treatment
With cancer, time is of the essence. Many cancer patients do not have time to safeguard their fertility before undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
However, even if you have already undergone cancer treatment, there is still hope of having a family.
For example, IVF treatment with egg donation is one option for women who cannot use their own eggs after cancer treatment.
Similarly, male partners who sperm has been affected by cancer treatments can consider various options. Today, highly advanced treatments such as ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) allows the successful freezing and future use of a very limited amount of sperm, making this is a possibility even where chemotherapy limits the number of ejaculates. In addition, sperm donation remains a possible option.
Beyond these options, cancer survivors can also investigate surrogacy or adoption as possible ways to build a family after cancer.
Time is of the essence
Cancer can be beaten, but in many cases the cancer treatment required can destroy a your fertility and your chances of having your own biological family.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, please speak to a fertility specialist about how any chemotherapy or radiation treatment can affect your fertility as a matter of urgency.
In both men and women, successfully preserving fertility requires egg/sperm freezing prior to cancer treatment. If chemo or radiation treatment can be delayed for a few weeks, it may be possible to harvest eggs or collect sperm to freeze and store for possible future use.
Even after cancer treatment, there may still be hope, so it is impartant to seek advice from a fertility specialist. 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.
We look forward to meeting you!