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Fertility Preservation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Must for People With Certain Medical Conditions

The COVID-19 pandemic put many things on pause. For some people, this included starting a family. In fact, routine fertility care, non-emergent surgeries and fertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), were put on hold during the first part of the pandemic.

But, for patients with cancer and other medical conditions that can affect fertility, "pause" is not an option.

"Young patients with a new cancer diagnosis are overwhelmed by the many decisions they have to make in a very short period of time, including preserving their fertility," says Northwestern Medicine Reproductive Endocrinologist Kara Goldman, MD, who is also the medical director of Fertility Preservation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "No one could possibly prepare for what it's like to experience all of this in the context of a pandemic."

The Northwestern Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center has continued to provide the same level of time-sensitive care to patients who need fertility preservation.

"Our entire team has rallied around our patients," says Dr. Goldman. "All members of the team have been phenomenally dedicated, selfless and compassionate. We are committed to helping our patients have excellent experiences and outcomes despite the challenging circumstances."

The Power of Fertility Preservation During the Pandemic

People often think about fertility in vague terms. You may know that you want to start a family or have another child someday, but you may not know when. However, if you are diagnosed with a certain medical condition, you may suddenly have a fertility timeline. Chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplants, surgery and other treatments and illnesses can negatively affect fertility. Some procedures and illnesses can even take away your ability to have biological children.

An unexpected fertility deadline is stressful on its own. Add in the pandemic, and it can be even more trying. "Not even a pandemic should hinder access to fertility preservation," says Dr. Goldman. "The associated feelings of loss cannot be overstated, and patients often share that the deleterious impact of cancer treatment on their fertility is the most traumatizing part of their diagnosis."

In fact, studies show that patients may consider altering their cancer treatments to preserve fertility. Dr. Goldman stresses that people should not have to choose between treatment and preserving fertility. This is true even during the pandemic.

Learning From the Pandemic

People with cancer, or who are receiving cancer treatment, are also at a greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19. This is why the Fertility Preservation Clinic took extra precautions to help protect their patients.

The center quickly changed patient safety protocols — requiring COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) — early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, they have been working tirelessly to make sure patients can safely preserve their fertility.

The center is also using telehealth to deliver care via video chat or phone. They have limited in-person visits without compromising outcomes.

"Telehealth is a powerful tool for improving access to fertility preservation," says Dr. Goldman. "Despite significantly fewer office visits, our patient outcomes have been just as optimal as they were before the pandemic." Telehealth has also allowed Dr. Goldman to consult with patients from around the country.

Moving forward, the Fertility Preservation Clinic plans to keep many of these practices in place. They will continue to provide care to patients who need to preserve their fertility regardless of external factors.

"Preserving fertility provides patients with cancer and other fertility-threatening conditions a tremendous source of hope during an otherwise dark time," says Dr. Goldman. "To be able to provide this uninterrupted care despite the ongoing pandemic has been incredibly life-affirming."

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Kara Goldman, MD
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