In 2014, three months after her wedding, Janet Doherty was diagnosed with breast cancer -- invasive ductal carcinoma. During her first visit with her medical oncologist, plans for chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery were mapped out. Overwhelmed, Doherty recalls only bits of that visit, but she does recall is a suggestion that came at the end of the visit,: "You will also need to see one of the fertility specialists immediately if you want to consider pregnancy in the future."
The combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal suppression that was part of her regimen could ultimately impact her ability to conceive naturally. Within 48 hours Doherty had an appointment with a fertility specialist and made the decision to harvest her eggs. These would be fertilized and frozen for future use in an approach called embryo banking, a process known as oncofertility.
Oncofertility brings together oncology and reproductive endocrinology in an attempt to preserve the reproductive potential of cancer survivors. Issues of fertility preservation touch not only the lives of women who want to have children, like Doherty, but also men and childhood cancer patients.
Often curative treatments that include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can cause long-term reproductive disorders. Even newer immunotherapies can cause permanent hormone disorders and impact fertility.
As treatments for cancers become more successful, more survivors go on to live long healthy lives, and issues around building a family become increasingly important. Fortunately, there are a number of options currently available, including approaches such as sperm banking, egg banking, embryo banking, testicular tissue banking, and ovarian tissue banking, and others.
Oncofertility as an emerging field aims to assist patients in choosing and implementing the appropriate method of fertility preservation, as well as helping patient overcome barriers such as education, access, cost, and ethical and legal considerations.
Over much of 2014 and 2015, Doherty underwent months and months of cancer therapy. As she reflected back on the very difficult year, she recalled that the hardest part of her diagnosis was that her treatment could affect her ability to bear children.
Following her successful treatment at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, she, along with her family and friends started “Preserving The Love,” a foundation to raise money for research and awareness for oncofertility. In its inaugural year, Preserving The Love has already raised over $40,000. Funds raised by this foundation will help launch Jefferson’s new oncofertility initiative.
Marlana Orloff, MD is a medical oncologist and researcher at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson. As both an oncologist and Doherty’s friend, issues of fertility preservation for cancer patients are especially important to her. In addition to her melanoma practice, Dr. Orloff is actively involved with Preserving the Love and Jefferson’s oncofertility programs.
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