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pregnant woman with doctorWith early detection and treatment, women diagnosed with breast cancer are surviving at increasing rates.  Unfortunately, successful treatment in reproductive-age women often leads to lower fertility or even early menopause.  Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer and some noncancerous conditions like lupus can cause permanent damage to the ovaries, making it hard for a woman to conceive after her treatment ends.  Due to advances in reproductive medicine, many women diagnosed with breast cancer are able to start fertility preservation treatment prior to chemotherapy and then pursue pregnancy once their health is restored.  Currently available fertility preservation treatments are oocyte (egg) and embryo cryopreservation or freezing.

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All women will have a natural decline in ovarian function and egg supply over time.  This process begins at birth and completes at menopause.  No medical therapy can halt natural ovarian aging. Oocyte cryopreservation (“egg freezing”) is a medical procedure through which a woman’s eggs can be harvested and frozen and then thawed, fertilized and transferred to the uterus as embryos at a later date.

How It Works

The technique for egg freezing is the same as that used for in-vitro fertilization.  A woman self-administers hormone injections for about 10-12 days to stimulate multiple eggs to grow in the ovaries. Once the eggs are developed, a needle is inserted into the ovary and the eggs are removed.  The length of an egg freezing treatment cycle is approximately 4-6 weeks, and eggs can remain frozen long-term.  Laboratory methods for egg freezing have improved considerably in the last 10 years and pregnancy rates with frozen eggs may be comparable to those with fresh eggs.

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Women who undergo fertility preservation and have a current male partner or sperm donor can fertilize eggs right away and then freeze embryos for later use.  If embryos are healthy at the time they are frozen, the chance of pregnancy is very good.  Pregnancy rates are not affected by the woman’s age when she returns to use her frozen eggs or embryos.

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