Fall, beyond even October, is synonymous with pink ribbons on lapels and 5k walks to raise awareness around breast cancer, the second most common cancer for women in the United States. According to American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for “about 30% (or 1 in 3) of all new female cancers each year.” 

And while a diagnosis of breast cancer — or any cancer — may take anyone by surprise, the deep breath that comes after a diagnosis may be filled with questions. Questions like, “What will treatment look like?” or “Will I survive?” are givens, but The Oncofertility Consortium hopes that questions like, “Can I preserve my fertility?” and “Who do I talk to in order to know my options?” also become more popular, as their work becomes more known. 

“Oncofertility” is a term that was coined in 2006 by Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D,of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. 

“We find it important to use the term ‘oncofertility’ because oncologists often don’t see themselves as fertility specialists,” explains Dr. Woodruff in an interview with the National Cancer Institute. “When we coined the term, I think it allowed for more of the cancer community to understand that this is a collaborative discipline where oncologists need to be actively involved in, but don’t have to understand, all of the fertility management strategies, and fertility doctors don’t have to understand all of the oncology side.” 

three women holding a breast cancer awareness sign that reads "hope"

Oncofertility: Fertility Preservation Before Cancer Treatment

Since its coining, the term “oncofertility” has come to mean the field of medicine that connects oncology and reproductive health, while also becoming the umbrella term for all the various ways that men, women, and children can preserve their fertility in the face of cancer treatment. 

Here are 4 fast facts to learn more about oncofertility and the options it offers:

1. There are fertility preservation options for both women and men.

The study of oncofertility and the options it allows aren’t gender-specific. The Oncofertility Consortium has researched (and is continuously researching) options that would help men, women, and children preserve their fertility ahead of cancer treatments. For women, those options include egg freezing, embryo banking, ovarian tissue banking, radiation shielding, ovarian transposition, radical trachelectomy, and ovarian suppression.  

2. You’ll want to seek out an oncofertility consultation, not just a general fertility preservation consultation.

“There are plenty of [in vitro fertilization] fertility centers for the general population, but if a cancer patient calls about fertility preservation, they could be put in a queue for 6 months,” explained Dr. Woodruff in an interview with the National Cancer Institute. “In an oncofertility consultation, you are an urgent case and providers have to think about a whole different set of ways to help you navigate care. It sets off the need to talk with the oncologist, to understand what the care plan is, and then to tailor the fertility intervention accordingly.” 

Savemyfertility.org — a resource site created by The Oncofertility Consortium — also shares a shortlist of questions you can turn to in order to guide or start a conversation with your doctor: 

  • How will my cancer and cancer treatment affect my fertility? 
  • Based on my treatment plan, what is my risk of infertility [high, moderate, low]? 
  • What are my options for fertility preservation before I begin cancer treatment (see table below)?
  • Can you refer me to a fertility preservation specialist to discuss my options further?

woman speaking with her oncologist about fertility preservation

3. You’ll want to ask your doctor about it before cancer treatment begins.

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Stepping into your power in this journey can look like being the first to bring up the process of oncofertility. The timing of these conversations is especially important because you want to prioritize fertility preservation before any treatments, not afterward, according to The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine

If you’re coming up short on where to start your research or self-advocacy process, SaveMyFertiltiy.org has a flowchart that leads you to your next step and you can also call 866-708-FERT (3378) for additional guidance. 

4. Oncofertility may (or may not) be covered by your health insurance.

In 20 states, health insurance is either mandated to cover or offer fertility treatment coverage in their health insurance policies. Of those 20, 12 states have now passed some form of coverage for oncofertility treatment. Each state has its own set of requirements or qualifiers for the treatment based on conditions or treatment plans, for instance. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association outlines details for each of the 20 states and the requirements each person would need to abide by in each state. 

Taking Control of Your Fertility Now and For the Future

Regardless of the kind of health condition that may lead you to explore oncofertility, having some of these fast facts in your back pocket may help.  It can be difficult to feel in control of your own body before, during, and after cancer treatment, but measuring your hormone levels daily and over time with a lab-grade fertility translator like Oova can make a huge difference and empower you and take control of your health and fertility, both now and for the future. Rescripted wishes you the best of luck with your treatment, and we're here to support you every step of the way. 

​​Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and host of Happy To Be Here podcast. Her award-winning Instagram community has created pathways for speaking on traditionally taboo topics, like mental health and grief. You can find Vivian @vivnunez on Instagram/TikTok and her writing on both Medium and her blog, vivnunez.com.