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Preserving Fertility Before the Start of Cancer Treatment
November 01, 2015

Hearing the words “You have cancer” can be one of the most shocking, scary and life-changing experiences for anyone. Your first instinct may be to do everything within your power to get rid of the cancer as soon as possible. While seeking treatment right away is crucial in that fight, it may be worthwhile to pause briefly and think about your life after cancer treatments.

“Most people get focused on the diagnosis and treatment of their cancer so much so that they don’t think about their future fertility. Cancer treatments are remarkably better, and there is an increasing number of men and women who are cured and later want to conceive,” says Tara Budinetz, reproductive endocrinology and fertility physician at Abington Reproductive Medicine and member of the medical staff for St. Luke’s Hospital University Health Network.

Although not everyone decides to have children after beating cancer, many people want to at least have the option available to them. While cancer treatments can be life-saving, they can affect your ability to have children.

Dr. Budinetz and her physician colleagues at Abington Reproductive Medicine are experts in assisted reproductive technologies. They explain the options and offer guidance and support through fertility preservation or infertility treatment. As partners with the Fertile Hope Foundation/Sharing Hope Financial Assistance Program, they can help with the financial component as well, offering patients access to donated fertility medications, discounted egg and embryo freezing services as well as a discounted cycle fee. Each individual is handled on a case-by-case basis to ensure they receive the most cost effective option possible.

Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Men and Women

“Cancer cells are rapidly dividing cells. Chemotherapy is designed to basically kill cells that are dividing. Chemotherapy doesn’t just kill cancer cells though; it also kills normal, healthy cells,” Dr. Budinetz explains.

Women are born with all of the eggs they’ll ever have and, as they age, the number and quality of the eggs decrease. Chemotherapy can damage and accelerate the loss of a woman’s eggs leading to a decrease in her fertility and sometimes premature ovarian failure, according to Dr. Budinetz.

Chemotherapy isn’t the only cancer treatment that can impact fertility. Radiation is designed to kill cells as well. "The goal of most radiation therapy is to slow down the growth and target the radiation to where the cancer is. If the cancer is in the pelvic or lower region of the body, there’s going to be some impact on the ovaries. It can damage or reduce the number of eggs that are viable,” Dr. Budinetz says.

Cancer treatments also can impact a man’s fertility. “Chemotherapy or radiation near a man’s testicles can reduce his sperm count,” says Dr. Budinetz. “However, treating cancer doesn’t mean men have to forgo their opportunity to have children either.”

Options for Preserving Fertility

“With men, before they take any chemotherapy, it's recommended they provide sperm to freeze,” Dr. Budinetz says. “Women can also take measures before their cancer treatments to preserve their fertility.”

One option is the medication Lupron. “If a woman is prescribed this type of medication before chemotherapy and during therapy, it may reduce the damage to her ovaries because it reduces the cellular activity within the ovaries,” she said.

Women also have the option of preserving their eggs and using them later, when their treatments are complete and they’re ready to have children.

“To preserve your eggs, you need to take fertility medication to stimulate ovaries to produce eggs,” Dr. Budinetz says. Once the ovaries produce multiple mature eggs, doctors will go in and remove them.

“We can freeze the eggs or, if a woman is in a committed relationship, we can generate embryos and then freeze them,” she said.

If you want to preserve your fertility before starting cancer treatments, talk to your doctor, oncologist or a reproductive specialist at St. Luke’s University Health Network to discuss your options. They will take into consideration the type of cancer you have, your age and the type of treatment you’re going to have. All of this will determine what the best approach is for preserving your fertility.

Being diagnosed with cancer and the treatments can be overwhelming, but if you’re at all concerned about being able to start a family down the road, now is the time to take steps to preserve your fertility. Getting all of the information about your options before your treatment will help you make an informed decision.

For more information on fertility preservation options, please contact Abington Reproductive Medicine located at 2591 Baglyos Circle, Bethlehem, PA 18020. Phone 215-887-2010 or visit Abington.Reproductive.com

Reproductive endocrinologist Tara Budinetz, DO

Tara Budinetz

Dr. Tara Budinetz received her medical degree from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and completed her obstetrics and gynecology residency at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania. She earned her post-graduate fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut. During her fellowship at the leading IVF program in the country, Dr. Budinetz trained under some of the pioneers in IVF. She experienced over 4,000 IVF cycles during her fellowship training.

She is an active member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (SREI), American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL), The American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOOG), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), The American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Dr. Budinetz has presented her research regarding IVF, PCOS and endometriosis, at several national meetings. She has also written several papers that were published in prestigious journals.

Dr. Budinetz is the recipient of multiple awards including two laparoscopic surgeon awards. She is a compassionate physician who has extensive knowledge of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and offers the latest treatment technology. Dr. Budinetz is a Lehigh Valley native and has resided in the greater Philadelphia area for most of her life.

Her personal interests include running, soccer, skiing, camping, playing the violin, wine tasting and spending time with her husband and two-year-old daughter, Lilly.

Dr. Budinetz specializes in:

  • Female and male fertility
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF and ICSI)
  • PCOS
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles in the adolescent population
  • Fertility preservation/egg freezing
  • Advanced laparoscopy, hysteroscopy and robotic surgery
  • Endometriosis
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss