Fertility, as is well accepted, refers to one’s ability to have biologically related children. For most people preserving fertility is not something they normally think about.
However, for some it needs consideration. Many treatments for cancer including chemotherapy and radiation therapy may decrease your child’s ability to have children in the future. Chemotherapy is also used to treat other diseases, that may also place your child’s fertility at risk. In such circumstances we need to consider fertility preservation in order to achieve parenthood in later life.
Fertility preservation helps create the potential for children and adolescents at risk for impaired fertility to have the option to seek interventions to help reverse their fertility. This apart we can look at fertility preservation in certain unavoidable social situations where pregnancy and parenthood cannot be considered for the time being due to lack of partners or financial or emotional reasons.
There are methods available that may help preserve one’s fertility. As this involves a relatively new science, the science of cryobiology, not much information exists in terms of safety and efficacy as yet but the scenario is changing very fast.
Boys who have entered puberty may be able to bank (store) sperm. Usually, boys 13 years of age and older are able to sperm bank. If for any reason a boy who has undergone puberty is unable to produce a sperm sample by masturbating, other methods are available to obtain his sperm. When the patient is ready to have children his preserved (frozen) sperm may be used to conceive (make a baby). See the SFPP pamphlet, Sperm banking for young men (pdf).
Testicular tissue preservation:
Younger boys who have not entered puberty do not make sperm. A method that might help these boys have biologically related children in the future is testicular tissue preservation. In a surgical procedure a small amount of testicular tissue is removed and then preserved (frozen). This technique may also be used in boys who have reached puberty but are not able to produce a sample on their own. In the future we believe that we will have the technology to use this tissue to make sperm, that may then be used to conceive a baby. Currently, this is an unproven technology.
Oocyte (EGG) Preservation:
Girls who have entered puberty may be able to preserve their eggs. This process involves hormonal stimulation to mature several eggs. These eggs are collected in a surgical procedure and are preserved (frozen) until the young woman is ready to have a baby. This process takes several weeks to accomplish and is expensive. It may not be a possible option for many girls.
Ovarian Tissue Preservation:
Young girls and girls who have entered puberty may have their ovarian tissue preserved. Ovaries contain immature eggs. During a surgical procedure a piece of the ovary is removed and then preserved (frozen). After the girl has completed therapy, this tissue may be put back in her body to restore her ovarian function. In the future, it is believed that we will be able to produce mature eggs in the lab from this tissue, that these girls can use to have children. Currently, this is an unproven technology.
It is strongly urged that we should look at these options only when we have to and avoid frivolous application of these techniques.