Fertility preservation allows women or couples the ability to have a biological family at a later time. The need for this can arise because patients are receiving a medical therapy that may cause infertility, such as cancer treatment, or because they are getting older and are not ready to become parents.
Northwestern Medicine Center for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine physicians pioneered many of the techniques for fertility preservation and are internationally recognized specialists. Our center is the hub for the Oncofertility Consortium.
Fertility preservation techniques
Patients about to receive treatment for a condition that could leave them infertile may store fertilized eggs or embryos. The patient takes fertility medication for about two weeks; eggs are harvested in an outpatient procedure and then fertilized with sperm. The fertilized egg or embryo is then frozen and kept for future use.
Women who wish to preserve their ability to have biological children in the future may store unfertilized eggs. The process starts by a woman taking fertility medication for about two weeks. Eggs are then harvested in an outpatient procedure and frozen. It is more difficult to freeze and thaw unfertilized eggs as compared to embryos. However, the techniques have vastly improved in recent years and are no longer considered experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Pregnancy rates from egg freezing are similar to those from embryo freezing.
Ovarian tissue cryopreservation
Women who do not have time for egg retrieval or have a medical condition that makes it unsafe can enroll in a clinical research study that involves the surgical removal of ovarian tissue. This tissue is processed and frozen for future use.
Lupron, a cancer medicine, may protect the follicles in a woman’s ovary from being damaged by chemotherapy. Some studies have shown a modest benefit for women while other studies have shown no benefit at all.
Male fertility preservation
Click here to learn about treatment options for male infertility.