What is egg or embryo banking, and is it suitable for my daughter?

Embryo or egg banking, often called in vitro fertilization (IVF), has been used for many years to treat couples who have trouble conceiving naturally. But IVF is also available to certain women who have been newly diagnosed with cancer but who have not yet started cancer treatment. The procedure is referred to as embryo banking or sometimes “emergency IVF” because of the shortened time frame doctors have to retrieve eggs before the person must begin cancer treatment.

Embryo banking generally offers the highest chance to have a future pregnancy after potentially sterilizing cancer treatment. A good candidate for embryo banking:

  • Is between 18 and 40 years of age;
  • Has a source of sperm, either from a partner or a sperm donor; and
  • Is able to delay cancer treatment for a few weeks

In both procedures, a woman or girl receives hormone treatments in order to stimulate egg maturation within the ovaries and the eggs are then removed. In embryo banking, the eggs are fertilized in a laboratory to create embryos. The embryos are then grown in the lab over 2-3 days, and transferred into the woman’s uterus. In the case of emergency IVF for cancer patients, the embryos would be cryopreserved, or frozen, for use at a later date.

Embryo banking may not be suitable for a minor because it requires the choice of sperm and the creation of an embryo. Egg banking, however, can be carried out on women who have started their menstrual cycles.

While there are very few risks associated with IVF, there is some concern that the artificially high levels of hormones used to stimulate egg maturation may also cause certain cancers to grow (for example, certain types of breast cancer). This point is controversial and some oncologists feel that the short period of time in which the hormones are increased is not important. In certain people, infertility specialists may be able to use medicines to reduce the amount of hormone that reaches cancer cells.

The eggs retrieved from the ovary during IVF may also be “banked,” or frozen, without being fertilized. A good candidate for egg banking:

  • Is someone who has reached puberty but is less than 40 years of age
  • Does not have a source of sperm (either from a partner or a sperm donor);
  • Is able to delay cancer treatment for a few weeks

To learn more about egg and embryo banking (or emergency IVF), watch the animation to the right. In certain cases, if these approaches are not possible, ovarian tissue cryopreservation provides another option to preserving fertility in women before they begin cancer treatment. Click on the links to your right to learn more about this procedure.