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What is the Oncofertility Consortium?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, starting treatment as soon as possible is often an urgent priority. But did you know that some cancers and most cancer therapies can affect fertility? Cancer survival rates among young people have steadily increased over the past four decades. As a result, life after cancer is becoming a reality for many people, who now have the opportunity to plan for the future. Oncofertility is a new specialty that brings together the latest in cancer and reproductive medicine to address fertility in cancer patients.

Planning to Have Children After Cancer

Today, there are several options available to help women and men preserve fertility before and during cancer therapy. Ten years ago, the phrase “families after cancer” would have been a fantasy for most cancer patients; today, the Oncofertility Consortium is helping to make it happen.

The Oncofertility Consortium is a nationwide initiative that was developed by Dr. Teresa Woodruff to address the complex health care and quality-of-life issues that young cancer patients face. Led by Northwestern University researchers, the group consists of a network of doctors, scientists, and scholars dedicated to the advancement of technologies that will provide improved fertility preservation options for people diagnosed with cancer (and other serious diseases) who must undergo treatments that threaten their fertility.

Sanford Women’s reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Keith Hansen, is a member of the Consortium and helps patients and physicians understand and address fertility before, during and after cancer therapy.

“Cancer patients often feel pressed for time to begin treatment – and may not realize that taking the time to consider future fertility before treatment can be a very important step to take first,” Dr. Hansen says.

The Consortium reports that many oncologists are comfortable allowing cancer patients up to two to three weeks time between diagnosis and beginning cancer therapy to address fertility.

Many Options to Preserve Fertility

Not every cancer patient will be able to preserve fertility and not every patient chooses to take action to do so. However, every young cancer patient should consider fertility and how cancer will affect it.

Radiation and chemotherapy target cancer cells but often also destroy or damage healthy cells in the process. Part of preserving fertility is to shield non-cancerous reproductive organs as much as possible during treatment.

Physicians are also able to extract and preserve healthy ovarian or sperm cells and freeze them for use after cancer. Sometimes surgeons can physically move ovaries out of the way into another area in the abdomen and then return them to their proper place following cancer therapy. A newer and experimental treatment is to remove ovarian tissue from the body, preserve it and transplant it back into the body after cancer. Men have the option of banking sperm.

“There are a variety of fertility preservation methods for male and female cancer patients. Oncofertility specialists can help you determine what your options are and the potential success rates for having children after cancer,” Dr. Hansen says.

Talk to your Sanford physician today or visit the Oncofertility Consortium’s website for a wealth of the latest information for patients, partners, parents and physicians about cancer and fertility.

Posted Date: March 2011