Oncofertility Consortium at Northwestern University Pioneers Fertility Preservation

Fertility sparing procedures which were once infrequent and under utilized, are now more commonly performed in young men and women facing a cancer diagnosis. A recent article in the February issue of the American College of Surgeons Bulletin, entitled Gynecologic Oncology Surgeons Spare Patients’ Fertility, Enhance Quality of Life,” by Jeannie Glickson discusses some of the technological advances in gynecologic oncology which have produced more favorable outcomes for young people facing a cancer diagnosis and fertility loss. Glickson talks to several heavy hitters in fertility preservation care, including Kristin Smith, Fertility Preservation Patient Navigator, and Oncofertility Consortium member Dr. Julian Schink, who maintain that it takes a multidisciplinary approach and team effort to treat young cancer patients.

One of the many things that Northwestern University is known for is pioneering collaborative fertility preservation care, oncofertility, at a time when many other institutions were treating fertility loss as a side effect of cancer treatment. According to Dr. Schink, “You need an oncologist who believes that the patients’ survival is the first priority, and you need a fertility team that respects some cancer patients’ desires to have children. You need strong players on both sides.” Specifically for these reasons, the Oncofertility Consortium was established – to respond to an urgent need for comprehensive fertility preservation care, incorporating clinicians, researchers and social scientists, all committed to ensuring that patients understand and can utilize fertility sparing technology.

Currently, patients interested in preserving their fertility may have some options that coincide with their cancer care, but other techniques not yet available to patients are being researched at the Oncofertility Consortium for potential future use. One of these techniques, a process called in vitro maturation, is performed by harvesting immature eggs from ovarian tissue strips which are cultured outside of the mother’s womb, treated with hormones until they mature and then fertilized with sperm to create an embryo. This would be particularly useful to patients who are not candidates for ovarian tissue transplantation such as leukemia patients or those with ovarian cancer.

As a result of the efforts of the Oncofertility Consortium and its members, patients can now receive comprehensive fertility preservation care at several sites across the country and internationally. At Northwestern, there has been a slight decline in the demand for fertility preservation services because patients no longer need to travel to Chicago for their treatment – they can find an institution, with the help of our Fertility Preservation Patient Navigator, in their own areas and according to Dr. Schink, “that’s a good thing.”

To read more about Northwestern’s pioneering efforts in oncofertility in Gynecologic Oncology Surgeons Spare Patients’ Fertility, Enhance Quality of Life, please click here.