Clinic helps women have babies after cancer

A specialized team of doctors is working to help cancer patients preserve their fertility and get treatment.

Ten months ago, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance opened its clinic, staffed with experts in fertility and cancer, all in the same place.

Chenault is concealing her identity to protect her family's privacy.

She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma but says maintaining her ability to have children was the most emotional part of her treatment.

"I had never really thought of a life where I wouldn't be able to have children and have a family. It's been important to me for a really long time," Chenault says.

Dr. Genevieve Neal-Perry runs the Oncoreproduction Clinic, a place where newly diagnosed women can come to freeze eggs, freeze embryos, even get Lupron to put them into temporary menopause until after chemo.

"You have a select population, and you can address their select needs and make sure that we can really provide them very direct and focused care," Neal-Perry explains.

The Livestrong Foundation offers financial aid, since insurance often won't cover fertility preservation.

Chenault chose to freeze two sets of embryos and get Lupron.

She just finished chemo and hopes to start talking about babies in six months to a year.

"I can't imagine how much harder this would have been without this response," Chenault says.

Both she and Dr. Neal-Perry say this gives patients some control in a situation where they may feel they have none.

"It really does give patients kind of a license to kind of fight, really move through the treatment and feel positive about the end of the tunnel," Neal-Perry says.

Cancer patients considering fertility preservation should ask a lot of questions about possible treatments and resources.

Both Livestrong and Walgreen's offer financial aid for meds.

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS RESEARCH SUMMARY

TOPIC: MAKING BABIES AFTER CANCER

REPORT: MB #4641

BACKGROUND: Cancer treatments are important for your future health, but they may harm reproductive organs and glands that control fertility. Changes to fertility may be temporary or permanent. Chemotherapy (especially alkylating agents) can affect the ovaries, causing them to stop releasing eggs and estrogen. Radiation therapy to or near the abdomen, pelvis, or spine can harm nearby reproductive organs. Some organs, such as the ovaries, can often be protected by ovarian shielding or by oophoropexy—a procedure that surgically moves the ovaries away from the radiation area. Surgery for cancers of the reproductive system and for cancers in the pelvis region can harm nearby reproductive tissues and cause scarring, which can affect your fertility. Hormone therapy (also called endocrine therapy) used to treat cancer can disrupt the menstrual cycle, which may affect fertility. Side effects depend on the specific hormones used and may include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Bone marrow transplants, peripheral blood stem cell transplants, and other stem cell transplants involve receiving high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation. These treatments can damage the ovaries and may cause infertility. (Source: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/fertility-women)

SYMPTOMS: Effects to fertility may not be obvious right away. Some symptoms that may indicate infertility are irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, painful sex, inability to get pregnant or having several miscarriages. Patients who experience these symptoms should contact their doctor. (Source: https://www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/fertility-services/cancer-and-fertility-risks-women)

CHALLENGES: Genevieve S. Neal-Perry, MD, PhD from SCCA-UW Medicine talked about the struggles with treatment and maintaining fertility, "in many young people, having a full life means being able to be a parent and have children. As a result, some patients have pushback to say, no, my fertility is important. And as a result, doctors, physicians, scientists are listening and trying to identify what will that mean for their cancer? And several studies have shown that delaying treatment doesn't necessarily change the outcome of their cancer so that we're able to now, in addition to the advancement of science, freeze eggs, freeze embryos and give these young couples the opportunity to be parents later in life."
(Source: Genevieve S. Neal-Perry, MD, PhD)