What is fertility preservation?

Fertility preservation is the process of saving or protecting eggs, sperm, or reproductive tissue so that a person can use them to have biological children in the future.

People with certain diseases, disorders, and life events that affect fertility may benefit from fertility preservation. These include people who:

  • Have been exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace or during military duty
  • Have endometriosis
  • Have uterine fibroids
  • Are about to be treated for cancer
  • Are about to be treated for an autoimmune disease, such as lupus
  • Have a genetic disease that affects future fertility
  • Delay having children

A number of fertility-preserving options are available.1,2

Fertility-preserving options for males include:3

  • Sperm cryopreservation (pronounced krahy-oh-prez-er-VEY-shuhn). In this process, a male provides samples of his semen. The semen is then frozen and stored for future use in a process called cryopreservation.
  • Gonadal shielding. Radiation treatment for cancer and other conditions can harm fertility, especially if it is used in the pelvic area. Some radiation treatments use modern techniques to aim the rays on a very small area. The testicles can also be protected with a lead shield.

Fertility-preserving options for females include:4

  • Embryo cryopreservation. This method, also called embryo freezing, is the most common and successful option for preserving a female's fertility. First, a health care provider removes eggs from the ovaries. The eggs are then fertilized with sperm from her partner or a donor in a lab in a process called in vitro fertilization. The resulting embryos are frozen and stored for future use.
  • Oocyte (pronounced OH-uh-sahyt) cryopreservation. This option is similar to embryo cryopreservation, except that unfertilized eggs are frozen and stored.
  • Gonadal shielding. This process is similar to gonadal shielding for males. Steps are taken, such as aiming rays at a small area or covering the pelvic area with a lead shield, to protect the ovaries from radiation.
  • Ovarian transposition. A health care provider performs a minor surgery to move the ovaries and sometimes the fallopian tubes from the area that will receive radiation to an area that will not receive radiation. For example, they may be relocated to an area of the abdomen wall that will not receive radiation.5

Some of these options, such as sperm, oocyte, and embryo cryopreservation, are available only to males and females who have gone through puberty and have mature sperm and eggs. However, gonadal shielding and ovarian transposition can be used to preserve fertility in children who have not gone through puberty.

If you have questions about fertility preservation, talk with your health care provider.


  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). (2013). Fertility preservation. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.cancer.net/research-and-advocacy/asco-care-and-treatment-recommendations-patients/fertility-preservation external link
  2. Loren, A. W., Mangu, P. B., Beck, L. N., Brennan, L., Magdalinski, A. J., Partridge, A. H., et al. (2013). Fertility preservation for patients with cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology clinical practice guideline update. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31(19), 2500–2510.
  3. ASCO. (2016). Fertility concerns and preservation for men. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/dating-sex-and-reproduction/fertility-concerns-and-preservation-men external link
  4. ASCO. (2016). Fertility concerns and preservation for women. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/dating-sex-and-reproduction/fertility-concerns-and-preservation-women external link
  5. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). NCI dictionary of cancer terms: Ovarian transposition. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=780385
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