Can there be fertility after cancer?


Effective cancer treatments mean more young cancer patients are surviving, but the same medications that are saving their lives are also killing their chances of having children.

From studying chemistry to winning homecoming queen, life for straight-a student Julianne Mai was all about school, until a few weeks ago.

"I didn't think that someone like me could have cancer," said Mai.

Now Mai's on her second round of chemo. Not only is she fighting cancer, she also had to make a choice about her future as a parent.

"Being a 17-year-old, babies aren't exactly what i have in mind all the time," Mai said.

It's a decision 130,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients must make every year. Dr. Steven Lindheim, Director of the UC Center for Reproductive Health, heads one of 50 national oncofertility sites addressing the problem.

"What we can provide for them is the ability after they've done their therapy to still have a family," Lindheim explained.

Since Mai needed chemo right away, she opted to have one of her ovaries removed and frozen for the future.

"To date ovaries have been transplanted either back in the forearm or chest wall," Lindheim said.

That's because of the rich blood supply found there. Later in vitro fertilization can take place. The technique is still experimental and has only resulted in 18 pregnancies worldwide.

"It's a new process. I don't know if it's going to work but it's for ten years from now," Mai said.

Freezing embryos and eggs is more common. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, 37-year-old Jennifer Mcguire decided to freeze her eggs.

"I had just started dating a guy and you know and to ask him to create embryos with me, it was a little much," Mcguire said.

For now, she's taking her cancer one day at a time.

"Trying to get my life back," Mai said.

n many cases these fertility preservation options are not covered by insurance. The cost can range from $8,000 to $12,000 depending on the procedure.  Lindheim also works with Livestrongs' Sharing Hope and says the foundation can help patient's arrange for discounted services and donated medications.