Fertility preservation program offers cancer patients advanced options and timely access

Freezing samples

Every year, more than 100,000 people younger than age 45 get cancer and, statistics indicate, a high percentage make full recoveries thanks to improved cancer treatments.

Though these treatments save lives, they can affect fertility. Many young cancer patients, however, are reportedly never counseled about fertility preservation options before cancer treatments begin, perhaps depriving them of the chance to have children.

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Program for the Preservation of Fertility can help cancer patients by offering them a range of advanced options – and just as important – timely access to treatment when days can be critical.

“The number one barrier to fertility for young cancer patients is timely referral to a fertility specialist,” says Orhan Bukulmez, M.D., Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at UTSW. “As soon as they are diagnosed, they need to be seen and counseled by the fertility physician. We need to see these patients on the same day or the next day – not the next available appointment.”

Dr. Bukulmez and his colleague Victor Beshay, M.D., Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, are available daily for cancer-related fertility referrals and see patients— and often begin fertility preservation treatments—within 24 to 48 hours of calls.

The number one barrier to fertility for young cancer patients is timely referral to a fertility specialist.”

Orhan Bukulmez, M.D.
Chief, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility

“If you have a patient who is about to embark on cancer therapies, if there could be a delay of two weeks in her treatment, we can quickly get her into fertility therapy,” says Dr. Beshay. “Then she can have her cancer treatments with fertility preservation already performed.”

Among the proven preservation treatments available at UTSW are egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation), emergency IVF for embryo banking, and sperm cryopreservation. Some experimental techniques such as in vitro oocyte maturation are currently under development. Fertility physicians can also collaborate with gynecologic oncology physicians on surgical techniques to limit radiation doses to the ovaries, a procedure known as ovarian transposition. Male fertility preservation counseling is also offered, including access to UTSW urologists.

Reducing stress, improving outcomes

“As the premier academic medical center in North Texas, we offer a unique opportunity to collaborate with experts from several different fields, all located on campus,” says Dr. Bukulmez.

Included in the team that can assist with fertility preservation issues are hematologists, oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, pediatricians, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, psychologists, pathologists, and researchers. An ethicist is also available, as are financial advisors to help patients with monetary concerns related to fertility treatments.

The close proximity of the team gives patients a feeling of familiarity that helps reduce stress and improve outcomes, according to Dr. Beshay. “It makes a huge difference, for instance, having the oncologists also here at the Medical Center,” he says. “The patient has one place she can go – for her cancer treatment and her egg freezing, for example – rather than traveling across town.”

He adds, “Oncologists are doing better with their cancer therapy, and we’re getting better with our fertility preservation therapy. If we partner together early, we should be able to give a patient a chance to have a child in the future once she’s finished her cancer treatments.”