A champion for fertility preservation and quality of life after cancer

This is the second of a series of blogs that Medill journalism students are writing about their perspectives on oncofertility. Read the first blog by Zara Husaini.

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By Christi Sodano-

A pioneer in the world of fertility preservation for young cancer patients, Dr. Teresa Woodruff of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, coined the term oncofertility and champions the idea of looking beyond the lab bench to the cancer patients affected by the studies.

Her research in reproductive endocrinology has increased awareness of fertility management and the role it plays in quality of life for the increasing number of women who are also young cancer survivors.

Woodruff addresses the main concerns and issues facing the field and the patients it is built around.

Q. What is oncofertility and what exactly does that encompass?

A. Oncofertility is a term to describe a new area of work that is used to provide fertility options to young cancer patients. It involves all the dimensions of a patient’s decision process and provider’s information. It is the ethics, the law, the religious constraints, and the multi-dimensionality of fertility management in the case of a young (ages zero to 40) cancer patient.

Q. What advice do you have for cancer patients concerned with fertility preservation? Where should they start and how can they find specialists that will work with their own doctors?

A. I think one of the main things is that cancer patients should really ask their doctors about the threat of their treatments to their fertility, because not all treatments are going to result in sterilization. Getting that information upfront is really important.

If their doctors don’t know, they should consult with a fertility specialist. Our oncofertility hotline can give them information about fertility management and their local experts. They don’t have to come to Chicago. There are 60 sites around America and we have partners in Europe, China and throughout the world that support fertility management.

Q. What options are there for cancer patients who are concerned about preserving and managing their fertility?

A. If you were able to protect your gametes before, it depends on what you protected. You might have gone through IVF and frozen a mature egg. Those mature eggs and ones that are fertilized with a husband’s, boyfriend’s, or a donor’s sperm can be re-transplanted into the patient.

For those who didn’t have their gametes protected, live births have also occurred after re-introducing preserved tissue transplants. However, there is the potential to reintroduce the cancer they just survived so we are working on ways to grow the tissue in culture and produce mature eggs that can be fertilized.

I think it is now 17 live births resulting from tissue culture.

For patients who were not aware or did not have time to access these options then adoption is now an option for them.

Q. What is the most common misconception regarding cancer patients and oncofertility?…Read more from the interview with Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD.