Posted on June 22, 2017 at 9:02 AM
The field of oncofertility emerged to preserve the fertility of cancer patients whose treatment might render them as infertile or sterile. Today, the field of fertility preservation has expanded to other patient populations whose medical treatment may affect their fertility. One such population is transgender individuals undergoing gender affirming treatments. Although research on transgender individuals is limited overall and in particular regarding issues surrounding reproduction, transgender individuals are interested in biological reproduction. Because various gender affirming treatments will permanently affect their fertility, such as hormonal treatment and surgical removal of the gonads, it is important for transgender individuals to be offered fertility preservation before they start these treatments.
There are, however, some factors that may make fertility preservation difficult or less attractive of an option for transgender individuals. Healthcare professionals offering fertility preservation should be aware of these factors so they can help mitigate them. Here I will discuss two of them.
First, undergoing fertility preservation treatment can be stressful for both transgender and cisgender people, but there are some unique challenges for transgender individuals. Individuals with gender dysphoria may find it particularly difficult to undergo procedures involving anatomy that is discordant with their identity. For example, transgender women who are asked to retrieve sperm via masturbation may find this request exacerbates their gender dysphoria and may not be possible to do. Transgender men who are asked to undergo vaginal ultrasounds may find this psychologically traumatic. In recognizing how fertility preservation treatment can be particularly difficult for transgender individuals, healthcare professionals should be prepared to find ways to alleviate these difficulties, such as by offering surgical methods of sperm retrieval for transgender women and sedating transgender men during vaginal ultrasounds.
Second, the gametes retrieved and frozen will not match the gender identity of transgender patients (i.e. a transgender woman will bank sperm and a transgender man will bank eggs). This discordance may not matter for some transgender individuals, but it could affect others. At least one older study found that having frozen discordant gametes made it difficult for some transgender individuals to move forward with their lives in their gender identity. More research is needed in this area to understand if and how this discordance affects transgender individuals today. Healthcare professionals should be aware of this potential discordance between gender identity and frozen gametes, but it should not be a reason to deny fertility preservation to transgender patients.
In addition to the two factors I have discussed here, there are other factors at play in fertility preservation for transgender individuals. Fertility preservation is becoming more common for transgender individuals undergoing gender affirming treatment and consequently healthcare professionals treating these individuals should be aware of some of the unique challenges this patient population faces. For more information on this topic, check out the “Proceedings of the Working Group Session on Fertility Preservation for Individuals with Gender and Sex Diversity.”