One of the most shattering effects of a brain tumor diagnosis is the feeling that you have lost control of your future. The younger the patient, the more difficult it is to process all of the possible issues a brain tumor creates. As the diagnosis and treatment is more thoroughly explained, it is important to give some serious thought to one particular aspect of the future –having their own biological children.
Many brain tumor survivors may face reproductive challenges as a result of their treatment. With successful treatment, tumor patients may still get the chance to fulfill their dreams. However, without research and forethought the ability to conceive naturally may be a challenge.
While some cancer treatments affect fertility, not all of them do. There are some chemotherapies that may cause infertility, just as some chemotherapies will make hair fall out while others do not. Radiation treatment can impact fertility as well. However, if you’re worried about being able to have children, it is a good idea to explore fertility preservation before treatment begins. Your primary care physician can refer you to a reproductive endocrinologist or urologist to determine which options are available.
It is not unusual to have treatment first and ask fertility questions later. If you have already undergone treatment, your primary care doctor or oncologist can do an evaluation. If you would like to try to conceive, your doctors can advise you on how treatment and its aftereffects may have an impact.
There are a few fertility preservation options for both men and women. Women may be at greater risk of losing fertility since they are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Chemotherapy can prematurely age your eggs, which reduces the ability to conceive.
There are some options for women, but they can take some time.
- Egg harvesting is the most common process women with fertility issues use. While it is also known as in vitro fertilization (IVF), the eggs don’t need to be fertilized and made into embryos before freezing. Unfertilized eggs can also be frozen. Since the goal is to harvest as many viable eggs as possible, the patient needs to take hormone-stimulating injections for approximately 10 to 12 days. When the eggs are matured, they are harvested in an outpatient procedure. In all, the egg harvesting process can take up to three weeks to complete.
- Another option is ovarian tissue freezing, where one ovary is removed and the tissue is stored for future use, at which time it is transplanted back into the patient. Although this process has resulted in live births, it is still considered experimental. There is also current research into taking immature eggs out of ovarian tissue and maturing them in the laboratory. Ovarian tissue freezing can take as long as a week to arrange.
For men, radiation or chemotherapy can cause temporary or permanent damage to the testes. The fertility options available to men are less complicated.
- Sperm banking is the most common option men use to preserve their fertility. After a semen sample is given and analyzed, the sperm are frozen. One semen sample may be enough to preserve a man’s ability to have biological children. Single sperm can be injected into an egg to create an embryo using IVF technology. Sperm banking is quick and easy to arrange through a sperm bank or urologist.
- For men who do not have mature sperm present in their semen, there’s Testicular Tissue Extraction. It is an outpatient procedure in which tissue is obtained and examined for sperm cells. If cells are found, they are removed and either used immediately or frozen for future use.
If fertility has been affected and no eggs or sperm are stored, there are still options. Either adoption or the use of eggs, embryo or sperm from a donor can give you a child that is yours in every way except biologically.