Fertility Preservation for Women Diagnosed with Cancer

Starting the Conversation

Information for Providers

Many women who have been diagnosed with cancer think preserving their fertility is important and want information about their options. However, patients may not feel comfortable bringing up fertility issues.


Understanding there are fertility preservation options available and referring at-risk patients in a timely manner to specialists can improve patients’ emotional outlook and future quality of life. However,

  • Patients may not be aware of their options for preserving fertility.
  • Patients may be focused on their cancer diagnosis and unable to think about fertility or the possibility of having a future family.
  • Women may later regret not considering fertility issues prior to starting cancer treatment.
  • Even women with a poor prognosis may want to consider fertility preservation.


Fertility Preservation - Where Does It Fit?

a) See table below
b) See figure below

Options for Fertility Preservation

  • The following table gives a brief description of options available to women who wish to preserve their fertility.
  • The American Society of Clinical Oncology and American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommend, when possible, at-risk patients be referred to a fertility preservation specialist prior to starting cancer treatment.
  • Several resources are listed on the reverse that can help you and your patients locate a fertility preservation specialist.
  • Remember there are other ways to build a family after cancer if we are unable to preserve your fertility now. Talking with a specialist can help you explore other options that might be right for you.
Option Definition Timing Time Requirement Other Considerations

Embryo Banking


Ovarian stimulation; Harvesting eggs, IVF and freezing of embryos Before or after treamtment 10-15 days outpatient surgical procedure Need partner or sperm donor
Egg Banking  Ovarian stimulation; Harvesting and freezing of unfertilized eggs Before or after treamtment 10-15 days outpatient surgical procedure  
Ovarian Tissue Banking (Experimental) Surgical removal of ovarian tissue and processing of tissue for freezing Before or after treamtment Outpatient surgical procedure Autotransplantation of tissue has produced live births; studies ongoing for IVFM
Radiation Shielding Use of shielding to reduce scatter radiation to the ovaries During treatment  In conjunction with radiation treatments Does not protect against effects of chemotherapy
Ovarian Transposition Surgical reposition of ovaries out of radiation field Before treatment Outpatient procedure  
Radical Trachelectomy Surgical removal of the cervix with preservation of the uterus Before treatment  Inpatient surgical procedure Limited to early stage cervical cancer
Ovarian Suppression (Experimental) GnRH analogs used to suppress ovaries During treatment  In conjunction with chemotherapy Data are mixed on the effectiveness of this option.


Starting the Conversation

Discussing fertility preservation is important. These key points can help start the conversation:

  • Cancer and cancer treatment may affect your fertility.
  • Based on your treatment plan, your risk of infertility is [high, moderate, low] (see table below).
  • Although it may not be on your mind now, it is important to discuss fertility before you begin treatment.
  • You may have options for fertility preservation before you begin cancer treatment (see table above).
  • Not all women experience infertility after cancer treatment, however it is still important to explore your fertility preservation options before treatment. 
  • I can refer you to a fertility preservation specialist if you would like to discuss your options further.

Cancer Therapy and the Risk of Infertility

The following table classifies various cancer therapies and regimens based on their known infertility risk in women (defined as permanent amenorrhea).

While this table provides general guidelines, each patient is different and treatment may impair their fertility differently.

High Risk
  • Whole abdominal or pelvic radiation doses >6 Gy in adult women
  • Total body irradiation (TBI)
  • Cranial/brain irradiation >40 Gy
  • CMF, CEF, or CAF x 6 cycles in women >40 years
  • Total cyclophosphadmide 5 g/m2 in women >40 years
  • Total cyclophosphadmidey  > 7.5 g/m2 <20 years
  • Alkylating chemotherapy (e.g., cyclophosphamide, busulfan, melaphan) conditioning for transplant
  • Any alkylating agent (e.g., cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide, busulfan, BCNU [carmustine], CCNU [lomustine]) + TBI or pelvic radiation
  • Protocols containing procarbazine: MOPP, MVPP, COPP, ChlVPP, ChlVPP/EVA, BEACOPP, MOPP/ABVD, COPP/ABVD

Intermediate Risk

  • Abdominal/pelvic radiation
  • CMF, CEF, or CAF x 6 cycles in women 30-40 year
  • Spinal radiation doses >25 Gy CMF, CEF, or CAF x 6 cycles in women 30–40 years
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • Protocols containing cisplatin
  • Total cyclophos-phamide 5 g /m2 in women age 30- 40
Low Risk
  • CMF, CEF, or CAF x 6 cycles in women <30 years
  • Nonalkylating chemotherapy: ABVD
  • Anthracycline + cytarabine
No Risk
  • Radioactive iodine
  • MF
  • Multi-agent therapies using vincristine
Unknown Risk
  • Monoclonal antibodies, e.g., cetuximab (Erbitux)
  • Tyrosine  kinase inhibitors, e.g., erlotinib (Tarceva), imatinib (Gleevec)

Table adapted from Fertile Hope, an initiative of LIVESTRONG; Cancer and Fertility: Fast Facts for Reproductive Professionals (2008); and Meirow D, et al. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2010;53:727-739.

CMF=cyclophosphamide/methotrexate/fluorouracil • CEF=cyclophosphamide/epirubicin/fluorouracill • CAF=cyclophosphamide/adriamycin (doxorubicin)/ fluorouracill • MOPP=mechlorethamine/oncovin (vincristine)/procarbazine/prednisonel • MVPP=mechlorethamine/vinblastine/procarbazine/prednisolonel • COPP=cyclophosphamide/oncovin/procarbazine/prednisonel • ChlVPP=chlorambucil/vinblastine/procarbazine/prednisolonel • EVA=etoposide/vinblastine/\ adriamycinl • BEACOPP=bleomycin/etoposide/adriamycin/cyclophosphamide/oncovin/procarbazine/prednisonel • ABVD=adriamycin/bleomycin/vinblastine/ dacarbazinel • AC=adriamycin/cyclophosphamidel • CHOP= cyclophosphamide/hydroxydaunomycin/oncovin/prednisonel • COP= cyclophosphamide/oncovin/ prednisonel • MF=methotrexate/5-fluorouracil


For more information about infertility risk, fertility preservation options for women diagnosed with cancer, and how to locate and refer your patients to a fertility preservation specialist: