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Philadelphia Fertility Clinic Joins the Oncofertility Movement with Fertility Preservation Program
December 13, 2012
When it comes to fertility preservation for cancer patients, the field of oncofertility has advanced leaps and bounds over the years. Particularly as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the experimental label from egg freezing for medical reasons in 2012, the procedure is becoming more widely practiced.
Michael Glassner, M.D., of Main Line Fertility just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is excited to be a part of the oncofertility movement. No stranger to fertility preservation, he’s been working over the last eight years with Jill Ginsburg, M.D. of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia- a Fertile Hope Center of Excellence- preserving the fertility of adolescent boys diagnosed with cancer.
Glassner recalls the biggest problem in the past for adolescent female cancer patients has been a lack of knowledge and equipment needed to preserve female fertility. Once egg freezing came about, the technology was so underdeveloped that 20 eggs were required just to get one future pregnancy. With current advances like vitrification, a fast-freeze method that minimizes egg loss during the thaw process, more cancer patients are given a shot at post-chemo IVF and pregnancy. “Science has gotten to the point where a frozen egg is as viable as a frozen embryo,” Glassner states.
The process of egg freezing for fertility preservation is much more involved than sperm freezing. It is similar to IVF, requiring fertility drug injections, egg retrieval, and egg or embryo freezing.
The goal of the oncofertility program is to empower patients to be an advocate for their own health and the future of their fertility. Adding fertility doctors into the cancer treatment equation takes the burden off oncologists who have just delivered the news of a life threatening diagnosis. “Talking about fertility on the heels of a cancer diagnosis can be difficult,” says Glassner. His team is available by email 24 hours per day, seven days per week. It isn’t uncommon for a patient to have a phone consultation at night and be sitting in the waiting room to start an egg freezing cycle first thing the next morning. “We don’t want patients looking back three, five, or 10 years wishing they had done things differently. Realizing the ramifications of [cancer] treatment have left them sterile is like salt in the wound”, he says. Like an insurance policy for fertility, Dr. Glassner wants to provide patients with an opportunity for some control over their future in a time of chaos.
It is for this reason that Glassner and the team at Main Line Fertility have partnered with the Main Line Health System hospitals to provide half price fertility preservation to cancer patients. The cost of an IVF cycle ranges between $7,000 up to $30,000 depending on location across the United States. Once medications are factored in, a patient is looking at a hefty price tag. In the Philadelphia region, the cost of IVF with medication averages $15,000.
For just $5,000, an oncofertility patient will be covered for consultation, monitoring, egg retrieval, freezing, and storage for one year. Should they elect to transfer embryos after chemotherapy, that cost is included as well. Medications are donated on behalf of Walgreens and Ferring Pharmaceuticals' h.e.a.r.t. BEAT Program and Fertile Hope, a Livestrong Foundation initiative. The cost of anesthesia at Bryn Mawr Hospital has also been cut in half, running the patient just $240 out of pocket.
The savings is significant, especially because most patients do not have insurance coverage. Offering heavily discounted fertility preservation provides oncofertility patients an opportunity they might have otherwise turned down because they didn’t have the money. “When an IVF patient faces a cycle, they have time to plan financially, even if it means borrowing money from a family member. Cancer patients don’t have time. The concept that they might walk away from it now is absurd. There are no do-overs,” Glassner says passionately.
Main Line is reaching out to local and regional cancer centers to raise awareness about fertility preservation. Studies show that oncologists are not talking about fertility preservation with their patients as often as they should. Many oncologists fail to realize that egg retrievals can be performed in a short amount of time before cancer treatment ensues, or in between cancer surgery and chemotherapy without interrupting the cancer treatment timeline. Glassner declares, “IVF doesn’t change a cancer patient’s prognosis. We can fit it in.” Particularly in regards to ovarian reserve, time is of the essence. Fertility compromising treatments like chemotherapy can further reduce a woman’s egg quality. Patients diagnosed with cancer are urged to speak up about fertility preservation.