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Most Young Women with Cancer Don't Try to Preserve their Fertility

Just 4% of women of childbearing age with cancer take steps to mitigate the risks of infertility inherent in many treatments. TIME Magazine's April 2 issue discusses the devastating potential side effect of treatment for young people diagnosed with cancer.

Historically, especially for women, who have more complex reproductive tracts than men, there wasn't much to do about this sobering reality. But over the past few years, a new field called oncofertility has raised awareness about new technological advances and the importance of offering patients the choice to preserve their fertility via many of the same techniques used by couples who have trouble getting pregnant.

Fertility preservation has allowed countless cancer survivors to build families after the fact, relying upon frozen embryos, eggs or sperm. There's research being done on maturing ovarian follicles outside the body with the hope that one day soon, viable eggs can be coaxed forth. And in 2010, the first U.S. baby was born from frozen ovarian tissue that his mother had transplanted back into her body after surviving cancer.

Each year, more than 120,000 U.S. women under age 50 learn they have cancer, but surprisingly, only 4% of women of childbearing age who have cancer are preserving their fertility, according to a study published in March in the journal Cancer. The news puzzles advocates of oncofertility, and suggests that efforts to educate women about ways to safeguard their fertility need to be stepped up.

"We are definitely making progress," says Kate Waimey Timmerman, program director for the Oncofertility Consortium, a national initiative based at Northwestern University that encourages doctors to consider patients' fertility before launching cancer treatment. "We are getting the message out there. But I was shocked that only 4% of women are actually undergoing fertility preservation. That shows that significant barriers still exist."

Read the TIME Magazine article
Learn more about the Lurie Cancer Center's Fertility Preservation Program

(Last updated on June 25, 2013 )