Posted by on October 14, 2014 - 2:50pm

In a bold announcement today, Apple and Facebook now will offer health coverage for their women employees to freeze their eggs. Egg freezing may enable women to protect and preserve their fertility—and with the steep price of $10,000+, this coverage may be seen as a significant investment in family planning, while others may see this as concerning. Climbing the corporate ladder while raising a family can be a significant barrier for many women and the health coverage to freeze one’s eggs can provide women with the choice and freedom to devote time to work and to one’s family. However, some argue this potentially pushing women to focus on their careers as primary and family as secondary.

Egg-freezing has reportedly doubled over the past year as women continue to seek this as a solution to longer fertility years. Indeed, the option to freeze one’s eggs has spurred feelings of empowerment in women, Emma Rosenblum even writing, “Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning.” Women often report barriers surrounding a seeming choice between work or family. The action of Apple and Facebook is intended to alleviate some stress surrounding career and family planning, while empowering women with the more choices and control in life. While positive in their intentions, some may read Apple's and Facebook's new announcement as potentially implying that women should focus on their careers first and family planning second. Whatever the implications, this is certainly an game-changing announcement.

Source: NBC News


Posted by on September 11, 2012 - 8:59am

Oncofertility is an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of oncology and reproductive medicine that expands fertility options for young cancer survivors. Experts in this field identify which cancer treatments are likely to damage later reproductive ability for men, women, and children and develop new fertility preservation methods. In addition, these scientists are also identifying cancer treatments that may be “fertoprotective” and prevent damage to the reproductive organs during cancer treatment. Every year, experts in this field meet to discuss the recent advances in oncofertility scientific and medical treatment. The sixth annual conference is September 27 - 28, 2012 in Chicago, IL.

The program for this two-day conference on fertility after cancer features translational and clinical research on fertility preservation, lessons learned from individual fertility preservation programs, a speech and special performance by the founder of the adolescent and young adult cancer advocacy group, Stupid Cancer, and a Keynote Symposium by Hamish Wallace, MD (Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh). During the two days of the conference, more than 20 invited speakers from across the globe will present cutting-edge information to attendees.

Health care providers will be provided with CME or nursing contact hours at no additional cost. For more information or to register for the conference, visit the website at or email The 2012 Oncofertility Conference is funded by the NIH (Grant 5R13HD063248-03), and an unrestricted educational grant from Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

To learn more about fertility and cancer, visit and download the free iPhone app.


Posted by on February 11, 2011 - 10:57am

This weekend, the Oncofertility Consortium, along with the Institute for Women's Health Research, is hosting the fifth annual Oncofertility Saturday Academy (OSA) at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.  OSA is an informal science education program designed to expose high school girls to the wonders of science and medicine through hands-on and experiential activities.  These high school girls come from the Young Women's Leadership Charter School, on the near south side of Chicago.  Through a rigorous application program, 16 juniors and 16 seniors are selected to participate in OSA.  Tomorrow, the juniors will participate in rotations in the Woodruff Lab, learning about cutting-edge fertility preservation techniques.  Additionally, the juniors will be paired with students in the new Physician Assistant Program at Northwestern University, who will lead a workshop on birth control and STD prevention.  The seniors will be paired with medical students for "Doctor for a Day."  Each student will learn how to administer a basic exam and will gain exposure to the medical field.  Both juniors and seniors will conclude the day by hearing the story of a cancer patient survivor's quest to preserve her fertility.

To learn more about this innovative high school program click HERE.  The term "oncofertility" was coined by Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff at Northwestern to describe the merging of two disciplines:   oncology and fertility preservation.  Many cancer treatments result in infertility and her research has focused on ways to preserve fertility in young women with cancer.

Posted by on October 8, 2010 - 10:44am

Dr. Teresa Woodruff, Director of the Institute for Women's Health Research at Northwestern, and her colleagues have just released their second book on oncofertility.    Oncofertility is a new field of study named by Dr. Woodruff who is a leader in the study of fertility preservation in women who have lost their fertility due to cancer therapies and other conditions that threaten their ability to conceive and bear children.  The issue of fertility preservation is of particular concern to young breast cancer survivors and their health care team.   To learn more about this book and where to find it read below.

The Oncofertility Consortium® is pleased to announce that the second volume of its Oncofertility series is now available on!

Fertility preservation is an emerging field not only in the basic and clinical sciences, but also in the social sciences and humanities.  Oncofertility: Ethical, Legal, Social, and Medical Perspectives offers insights by experts and scholars in bioethics, philosophy, religion, communication, and history, who tackled questions such as,
“What are the Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic perspectives on oncofertility?”
“What barriers to adoption do couples with a history of cancer face?”
“What decisionmaking processes do families undergo when considering fertility preservation?”

Purchase your copy of this one-of-a-kind book to discover the answers to these questions and to learn more!

Complete your Oncofertility collection with the first volume, Oncofertility: Fertility Preservation for Cancer Survivors, also available on!

Posted by on August 30, 2010 - 8:47am

A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Oxford supports the widespread belief that stress may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant.  The study is the first of its kind to document, among women without a history of fertility problems, an association between high levels of a substance that is indicative of stress and a reduced chance of becoming pregnant.

The researchers showed that women who had higher levels of alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance.   Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the parotid gland, the largest of the salivary glands.    Although alpha-amylase digests starch, in recent years it has been used as a barometer of the body's response to physical or psychological stress.  The substance is secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, compounds that initiate a type of stress response.

Researchers tracked the ovulation cycles of 274 English women ages 18-40 who were trying to conceive.  On the sixth day of their cycles, each woman collected a sample of her saliva, which was subsequently tested for alpha-amylase.  The researchers found that, all other factors being equal, women with high alpha-amylase levels were less likely to conceive than were women with low levels.  A larger study is currently underway to confirm these findings.  If these finding hold up, health providers will need to find appropriate ways to help women alleviate stress while trying to conceive.

To view the NIH Press release, click here.

Posted by on August 23, 2010 - 9:15am

No, you did not open the wrong page.   Yes, this blog is posted by the Institute for Women's Health Research at Northwestern. As an advocate for better  sex and gender based research, we support all avenues that increase our knowledge about sex differences and that includes  a better understanding of  hormone changes in women AND MEN.

Furthermore, women are generally the source of health information for their families and that includes their male partners! So, women and men, read on!

Low testosterone levels to blame for low libido, fatigue and weight gain

While most frequently associated with women’s health, age-related hormone changes, often dubbed menopause, can occur in men as well, causing symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, decreased desire for sex, hair loss, lack of concentration and weight gain. Experts estimate that more than 5 million men are affected, yet worry the number may be considerably higher since symptoms are frequently ignored.  Male hypogonadism, as it’s referred to in the medical community, occurs when the testicles do not produce enough testosterone, the hormone that plays a key role in masculine growth and development. When hormone levels drop, men can experience significant mental and physical changes.

“This is a highly prevalent disorder,” said Robert Brannigan, MD, urologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Unfortunately, we estimate that 95 percent of cases are undiagnosed and therefore untreated. When ignored, symptoms can seriously disrupt one’s quality of life.”

Brannigan explains hormone variations are a normal aspect of getting older. “In females, ovulation comes to an end and hormone production declines in a relatively quick period of time, whereas men experience hormone shifts more slowly, with testosterone levels dropping around one percent each year beginning in a man’s late thirties,” adds Brannigan. He goes on to explain that by age seventy, the reduction in a male’s testosterone level could be as high as fifty percent or more compared to baseline levels, but notes that aging men are not the only ones at risk. A number of genetic causes can impact males from birth and are usually diagnosed with failure to progress normally through puberty during the teenage years.

Treatment options for male hypogonadism include hormone replacement therapy (HRT) via absorbable pellet implants, topical gels, patches, and injections. Through HRT, doctors can restore sexual function and muscle strength. In addition, men often experience an increase in energy and an improved overall sense of well-being.

“We are seeing more men affected by male hypogonadism than we saw ten years ago,” said Brannigan. “However, many men continue to suffer in silence due to a lack of awareness surrounding the disorder. Because male hypogonadism can significantly impact the quality of one’s life, it’s important that men pay attention to their body and openly discuss symptoms with their physician in order to prevent overlooking the cause and avoid missing an opportunity for appropriate therapy.”

Although research to determine the exact association continues, doctors also warn that male hypogonadism has been linked to chronic medical conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s also closely associated with infertility.

“This disorder is not something that should be ignored,” said Brannigan, who is working to educate patients and physicians about the symptoms and treatments available in order to ensure therapies are made available to men in need.

Male hypogonadism is most commonly diagnosed through a simple blood test. Brannigan notes hormone replacement therapy is not appropriate for all patients especially those with history of prostate and breast cancer and men trying to conceive. He suggests consulting your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.

Posted by on August 3, 2010 - 4:01pm

The health of pregnant women can say a lot about a region. It can indicate the accessibility and affordability of health care, as well as how much recognition maternal health receives in the region. A healthy pregnancy results in healthier children and decreased risk for maternal death. Conversely, measuring maternal mortality rates can also indicate the level of health resources within a country

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration, which established a series of goals including Millennium Development Goal 5. The goal aimed for a 75% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 1990 to 2015. The MMR is a common statistic used to indicate the number of women, that die while pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth, for every 100,000 live births.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study looking at maternal mortality rates over the past 28 years. In a report published in the Lancet this May, the authors examined the MMR across the globe using a variety of national and regional reports.

Using this data, the authors determined that there were about 340,000 maternal deaths in 2008 compared with 530,000 deaths in 1980. Between 1980 and 2008, the authors found some interesting trends. India had the largest number of maternal deaths of any country overall but the MMR substantially decreased over time. Eastern Asia reported the greatest reduction in maternal deaths while maternal mortality actually increased in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1990s. As of 2008, sub-Saharan Africa made up 52% of the global maternal deaths.

Additionally, in 2008, all the countries in western Europe, Canada, and Australia had maternal mortality rates below 10 (Italy was lowest with 4). The USA, on the other hand, had an MMR of 17, an increase from 1980, which the authors say may be due to increased reporting.

In contrast, over 21 countries had no data for the entire period between 1980 and 2008. Many of these countries are in northern Africa and the Middle East, which may indicate a low awareness of maternal mortality issues.

While the global MMR decreased over the past 28 years, the spread of HIV over the 1980s and 1990s initially caused maternal deaths to increase. Better treatment of HIV-positive women now prevents many of these maternal deaths (and decreases the spread of the virus during childbirth). Over this time period, the MMR was estimated to decrease 1.5% a year. While an improvement, it does not meet the 5.5% annual MMR decrease needed to meet Millennium Development Goal 5.

While the authors could only speculate on the direct causes of decreased maternal death rates, they do suggest some possibilities. During this same time period as the study, the total fertility rate decreased, which usually correlates with decreases in maternal mortality. In addition, income per person rose, particularly in Asia and Latin America. This can affect maternal and child mortality by increasing nutritional status and access to health care. Maternal education levels and birth assistance by a skilled professional also increase maternal health.

While it appears that the maternal mortality ratio will not meet the 2015 goals of the Millennium Declaration, continued efforts are being put forth to promote this important issue. President Obama has also proposed the Global Health Initiative, which will invest federal dollars to help other countries strengthen their health systems, with an emphasis on maternal and child health. In addition, public health advocacy groups also work around the globe to support this mission, including the White Ribbon Alliance. By working together, these organizations may continue to increase the awareness of health care for pregnant women and reduce maternal deaths.


To read Kate’s posts about issues surrounding cancer and fertility, go to the Oncofertility Consortium Blog.

Posted by on March 3, 2010 - 10:28am

Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is the delivery of a baby through the vagina after a previous cesarean delivery. For most of the 20th century, clinicians believed that once a woman had undergone a cesarean, all of her future pregnancies required delivery by that procedure as well. In the 1980s, vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) also began to be considered a viable option for these women. Since 1996, however, VBAC rates in the United States have consistently declined, while cesarean delivery rates have been steadily rising. What accounts for these changing practice patterns? An improved understanding of the clinical risks and benefits of both procedures, and how these risks interact with legal, ethical, and economic forces to shape provider and patient choices about VBAC, may have important implications for health services planning and informed decisionmaking.

An impartial, independent, Consensus Development Conference panel will hold a press telebriefing to discuss their findings and implications for the public following the NIH Consensus Development Conference on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC): New Insights, March 8-10, 2010. The panel’s statement will incorporate their assessment of the available evidence from a systematic literature review, expert presentations, and audience input to inform patient and provider decisions regarding VBAC.

This blog site will post a summary once the guidelines are released.

Posted by on February 4, 2010 - 10:58am

Research led by Teresa Woodruff, PhD, director of the Institute for Women's Health Research at Northwestern University was featured in the first edition of  Horizons in Bioscience, a publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, that describes scientific discoveries on the brink of clinical application.   This publication is shared with members of Congress who track National Institute of Health funding.

In 2006, Dr. Woodruff coined the term 'oncofertility' to describe the merging of two fields: oncology and fertility. Advances in chemotherapy and radiation have increased survival in cancer patients but many of these life-saving treatments often result in the loss of fertility. Breakthroughs in ovarian tissue cryopreservation and in vitro follicle maturation are brightening the outlook for preserving fertility in young women with cancer and other diseases that are treated with potent therapies. Based on promising science being done in her lab, Woodruff was awarded a prestigious Roadmap Grant from the NIH to advance her work in 2007. She now heads a national Oncofertility Consortium, an interdisciplinary team of biomedical and social scientists, oncologists, pediatricians, engineers, and ethicists from universities across the country--bringing national experts together to accelerate the new field.

For more information about Dr. Woodruff and her work, visit the newly updated website of the Oncofertility Consortium.

Posted by on November 30, 2009 - 2:33pm

A recent article by the British news source, Mail Online, titled “Sorry darling, I can't do the vacuuming. It might damage my sperm count: The best excuse yet for men not to do the housework...” has generated media attention.  The premise is that household chores such as using a vacuum cleaner, microwave or refrigerator could reduce a man’s chances of having children.  The article explains that the high dose of electromagnetic fields produced by these household machines can drastically reduce the quality of sperm.  As implied by its title, author Nic Fleming concludes that we should think seriously about reducing men’s exposure to household chores involving electrical appliances.

The ‘facts’ of the story are a wildly embellished extrapolation from the research of Dr. De-Kun Li at Stanford University.  Dr. Li’s article, which will be published in January in Reproductive Toxicology provides evidence that exposure to high levels of magnetic fields is linked to a two-fold increase in the risk of poor sperm quality.  Sperm quality, for the purposes of Dr. Li's study, is defined by motility, morphology and concentration.  The study was performed on 148 men, 76 with low sperm quality and 72 with normal sperm (controls).  Study subjects wore electromagnetic field meters for a period of 24 hours to measure their exposure to magnetic fields with frequencies between 40-1000Hz.  The article does not mention specific machinery or household appliances and does not caution men against performing household tasks.  The authors do, however, reference other articles linking cell phone use to poor sperm quality.

So what about women?  If electromagnetic fields are capable of damaging male gametes, why wouldn’t they be damaging to female gametes?  In fact, a 2001 study published in Bioelectromagnetics indicated that low frequency magnetic fields have adverse effects on fertility in both male and female rats.  While other studies in both humans and other mammals have yielded inconclusive or conflicting results – it is important that we consider effects on fertility in both sexes.  If electromagnetic fields are in fact detrimental to our fertility, the implications for women are far greater than for men as men constantly replenish their sperm supply every 3 months.  Because women don’t create new gametes throughout their lifetime, any damage to female fertility presents a more permanent problem.  Perhaps it is women who should be exchanging the vacuum cleaner for a foot massage…