Fertility might be the last thing on your mind when your partner is diagnosed with cancer. But thinking through their fertility options now will help you both create the family you want later.
Your Partner’s Oncofertility
Fertility might be the last thing on your mind when your partner is diagnosed with cancer. But thinking through their fertility options now will help you both create the family you want later. Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, can change your partner’s reproductive health and make it harder to get pregnant.
There is no one size fits all approach to reproductive health and family planning. Thinking through a few questions now can help you figure out what you want and take charge of your options.
- Do I want children in the future? If yes, do I want biological children or should we consider using a different option?
- Am I comfortable asking my partner to undergo fertility preservation? What if they need to delay their cancer treatment or undergo surgery in order to preserve their fertility?
- If my partner opts out of preserving their fertility, how can we create the family unit we want? What will our chosen family look like?
Your Partner’s Options
When it comes to preserving your partner’s fertility, they have many options that might be dictated by their diagnosis, age, overall health, or other factors that impact reproductive health. A reproductive specialist can help you both identify the best option for your family.
Options for Women
(and anyone assigned female at birth)
Removing eggs from the ovaries
This procedure uses a vaginal ultrasound probe to guide a thin needle through the vagina and into the ovary to retrieve eggs. Prior to the egg retrieval, your partner will need to take fertility drugs to stimulate the development of multiple eggs in order to have as many viable eggs as possible.
Egg or Embryo Freezing
Storing eggs or fertilized embryos
After an egg retrieval, eggs can be stored either unfertilized or fertilized with sperm, aka embryos. The eggs and/or embryos are frozen for storing so you can use them in the future. When you’re ready to use them, the eggs or embryos will be thawed and transferred to your or your partners uterus (or someone else’s if you’re using a surrogate).
Ovarian Tissue Freezing
Removing ovarian tissue
This procedure removes your partner’s entire ovary, or pieces of an ovary, during surgery. The removed tissue will then be divided into small pieces and frozen. The outer layer of the ovary, which holds the eggs, will be stored for future fertilization. When you are ready to have a child, the tissue will be thawed and re-implanted in your partner’s body, with the hope that eggs in the tissue will mature and release naturally with ovulation, allowing them to get pregnant. The eggs from the tissue could also be matured in a lab, combined with sperm to create an embryo, and then reimplanted in the uterus.
Drugs to protect the eggs
This is an experimental option that is non-surgical and involves taking a medication to block certain hormones from stimulating your partner’s ovaries. This prevents their eggs from maturing, hopefully protecting them from the effects of cancer treatment.
Moving the ovaries to avoid radiation
If your partner is receiving radiation therapy to the pelvis, this surgery will move their ovaries away from the normal location to lower the amount of radiation they’re exposed to. This may help their ovaries keep working normally after treatment.
Protecting the ovaries from radiation
A shield is placed around your partner’s ovaries to protect them from the harmful effects of radiation.
Options for Men
(and anyone assigned male at birth)
This well known option collects and stores your partner’s healthy semen before they undergo cancer treatment. It’s also called sperm cryopreservation or semen storage.
Testicular Sperm Extraction
Removing sperm from the testes
For men who aren’t able to produce sperm in their semen, this option takes a biopsy from your partner’s testicular tissue to find any available sperm cells, which can then be frozen until they’re ready to have a child.
Protecting the testes from radiation
A shield is placed around your partner’s testes to protect them from the harmful effects of radiation.
Whether you don’t want children period, don’t feel drawn to having biological children, or just don’t want to deal with fertility preservation on top of dealing with cancer, it’s okay to opt out.
If your partner doesn’t preserve their fertility, but you still want to add children to your family, you have options including adoption, surrogacy, foster to adopt, and embryo adoption. And if you don’t want children at all, that’s cool, too.
Supporting Your Partner
It can feel particularly challenging to discuss fertility with your partner since it is something so intimately connected to your dreams for your family as well. While your partner’s fertility does impact you, try to remember that they’re the one with cancer and their perspective is unique. At the end of the day, your partner is not only going through cancer treatment, but also potentially going through fertility treatments as well.
Try to have open and honest conversations with your partner about each of your dreams for your family and how you can make that happen.
- How are you feeling about the idea of children in the future?
- Would you want biological children or should we consider other options, like adoption or sperm/egg donors?
- How does it feel to face fertility treatments on top of cancer treatments? What can I do to help?
- Should we talk to your cancer care team about your fertility before moving forward with a treatment plan?
Quarterbacking your care
Our CareLine provides personalized cancer navigators for people with cancer and their caregivers. Your navigator can help you:
- Get financial & insurance help
- Learn about employment protections
- Apply for social services
- Get mental health support
- Understand fertility options