My friend Alice is in labor right now. She’s a breast cancer survivor and founder of Fertile Action, a cancer charity working to ensure fertile women touched by the disease can become mothers. Dante, her soon-to-be son, is the result of embryos Alice froze prior to undergoing chemotherapy.
Alice’s story reminds me that there are so many reasons women freeze their eggs – from single women, to deploying service women, to those religiously opposed to freezing embryos. Although oocyte cryopreservation was originally intended for cancer patients, the medical community does a poor job of communicating the option prior to chemotherapy.
A study by the University of California San Francisco, polled over 1,000 women ages 18 to 40 diagnosed with: leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer and gastrointestinal cancer. Results of the study revealed that only 61 percent of the women had received counseling on the option of egg freezing and a mere 4 percent of women actually pursued fertility preservation.
Dr. Mitchell Rosen, a primary lead in the study and director of the UCSF Reproductive Labs and Fertility Preservation Program said: “There remains a large unmet need for fertility preservation. Chemotherapy and radiation save lives, but they potentially compromise the ability to carry on a legacy, something that we all may take for granted.”
Obviously there needs to be more education and awareness of the potential of egg freezing to extend a cancer patient’s fertility future. Doctors need to take the long view and communicate a patient’s infertility potential at the onset of a diagnosis. More importantly, however, insurance companies need to step up and cover the costs of egg freezing for cancer patients. Currently, a few non-profits, including Fertile Action, have grants and subsidies to defray the hefty cost of egg freezing. However, it’s courageous women like Alice who vow to make the journey easier for other women touched by cancer by openly sharing their stories and tirelessly working to make fertility preservation an integral component of a woman’s cancer diagnosis.