In vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo cryopreservation is an excellent option for preserving fertility for future use, especially after cancer for women under age 40, in cases where the patient and her oncologist are willing to delay the initial cancer treatment for four to eight weeks.
In many cases, the frozen embryos may be leftover embryos from an IVF cycle, preventing the waste of viable normal embryos. Embryo cryopreservation may also be used to preserve fertility for women who are not yet ready for childbearing. Frozen embryos may also be donated to infertile couples.
With this treatment, drugs are used to induce the woman's ovaries to mature and release multiple oocytes. These oocytes are then fertilized in vitro using sperm from her partner or a donor. The embryos that form are frozen three to five days after fertilization, and then thawed and transferred back to the woman at a later time. For cancer patients, embryos can be transferred when her oncologist determines her cancer therapy is complete, her cancer is in remission, and her health has been restored sufficiently for childbearing. Embryos produced through this process can be cryopreserved indefinitely.
Depending on the age of the patient and her medical circumstances at the time the embryos are frozen, the likelihood of pregnancy can be quite high even many years later. The age of a woman becomes less of an issue after the embryos are frozen because their viability is determined primarily by her age at the time the oocytes were removed.
Given the substantial experience with this fertility treatment, many cancer physicians and their patients are willing to postpone chemotherapy or radiation treatment for the time it takes to perform this procedure.