IVF, fertility and PGD for high-risk women

20 Aug 2021

Pink Hope is a charity that supports women and families who have or are at high risk of developing, breast and ovarian cancer. We provide information and quick tips on how to understand what options are available in these situations.

For many women with a recent cancer diagnosis and impending chemotherapy treatment, fertility might be a consideration. When you are first diagnosed with cancer, it might be hard to think beyond the coming stages of treatment. However, if you are planning on starting or continuing a family, it might be important to consider your fertility options as well.

Chemotherapy targets cancer cells, but due to the toxic nature of the process, it can affect other body processes at the same time. The chemicals may stop the ovaries from producing eggs temporarily, or more permanently. This won’t affect everyone but is worth some consideration. The good news is there are steps you can take to plan ahead of these potential problems, such as IVF.

IVF and egg retrievals

Before you start chemotherapy, it might be worth speaking to a fertility specialist to see how your fertility could be affected and how you can plan ahead. As chemotherapy may lower egg production in your ovaries, one option might be having an egg retrieval for IVF.

IVF, or in vitro fertilisation, is a process performed by a fertility specialist in which eggs are taken from the female and mixed in a culture dish with sperm from their partner to form embryos. In this case, the fertilised embryo would then be frozen and kept until you are recovered ready to have it placed back in the uterus for pregnancy. This would ensure that you still have access to your eggs, even if your body stops producing them due to the cancer treatment. Our tips for this process are:

  • A good place to start is to chat with your health care professionals such as your GP or your oncologist. Ask them about your fertility status and how your cancer treatment may affect it.
  • If you feel like you need someone to chat to who can relate to your situation, join our online support groups to talk to people in a similar position.
  • When visiting your GP, oncologist or fertility specialist, come with a list of questions and concerns. You have enough on your mind so take the time to write down what you’re confused about so you don’t forget to ask.
  • Always rely on health care professionals for answers.
  • Find out which fertility specialists in your area have a specialty in cancer.

For more information, visit: ivf.com.au

Questions about IVF For your GP, oncologist or fertility specialist:

  • How many eggs will be retrieved and what does this mean? How are the eggs retrieved? How much will it cost?
  • How do hormone injections work?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • How long does the process take?
  • What are the chances of the embryo being viable after thawing?
  • What are the chances of successful pregnancy after embryo implementation?

PGD or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis

Another benefit of IVF is the possibility of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD. PGD is a process that screens embryos to identify which, if any, carry a genetic disease. In the case of breast cancer, there are 2 gene mutations that are associated with an increased risk of cancer development. BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are markers of an inherited predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. This means that if a person has these gene mutations, they are more likely to be at risk of developing breast cancer. These gene mutations tend to appear in families with a history of breast and ovarian cancer, as it is acquired hereditarily. PGD offers the option to screen IVF embryos to select for ones that do not display this mutation, thereby decreasing the child’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer development to normal levels.

Talk to your health professional about your BRCA status and what this means.

Be prepared for whatever the outcome may be – not every implantation works first go.

  • Discuss with your doctor what the risk is of your children inheriting the gene mutations.
  • Ask your doctor about what kinds of side effects can happen from the IVF drugs.
  • Questions About PGD
  • Ask about implantation process.
  • If an embryo has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, what are the chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer?
  • How long will PGD take? How much will it cost? How accurate is it?
  • Have a good support network around you as it can be quite an emotional journey

Questions About PGD

  • Ask about implantation process.
  • If an embryo has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, what are the chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer?
  • How long will PGD take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How accurate is it?

Click here to read our CEO Sarah’s story about being at-risk and having her two children.