A new treatment called ovarian cryopreservation increases chances of pregnancy despite cancer.
One of the many side effects of cancer treatment is reduced fertility. Many cancers are treated using alkylating agents (a type of chemotherapy) that can seriously damage the female reproductive system. Until now, women undergoing this type of treatment often end up unable to have children.
No longer, or so a new, groundbreaking ovarian cryopreservation treatment promises.
The NHS is offering ovarian tissue cryopreservation in three of its centers around the UK. The procedure involves the removal and freezing of healthy ovarian tissue prior to cancer treatment. The healthy tissue contains eggs, which are cryopreserved until after the cancer treatment and chemotherapy. Even if the cancer treatment seriously damages the woman’s reproductive system, there is still a chance of conception.
How is this possible? Well, once the cancer treatment is complete, the ovarian tissue is removed from cryopreservation and re-implanted in the woman’s womb or ovaries. The implanted strips of flesh begin to produce healthy eggs once more, essentially making natural conception possible. Not only that, but the healthy ovarian tissue can actually stave off menopause—another cancer side effect.
READ MORE: Whole Body Cryotherapy
In the UK, women are given the choice to freeze their eggs (individually) if the cancer treatment is likely to damage fertility. However, not all women are suitable for egg freezing. In some cases, the cancer requires urgent treatment, and simply cannot wait for the hormone therapy to be complete. In cases of pre-pubescent cancer, eggs cannot be harvested and frozen.
However, with the new procedure, doctors are able to make a keyhole incision to remove the ovaries. The patient is placed under general anesthetic, and the tissue and eggs are harvested in a painless procedure. The procedure works because all of the eggs a woman produces in her lifetime can be found in the outer layer of the ovary. The surgery extracts that layer, along with the blood vessels that feed it, cuts it into strips, and freezes it. All the still-viable eggs are frozen along with it. When the cancer is treated and the women want to try for conception, the eggs can be implanted for a natural pregnancy.
This new technique offers more than just hope for women who may want to someday get pregnant despite their cancer. For girls and young women diagnosed with cancer before they reach child-bearing age, it is a hope for the future. They are able to preserve more than just their eggs before seeking treatment for cancer. They are potentially able to have a natural, healthy pregnancy despite the fertility-affecting cancer treatment.
READ MORE: Read this before egg freezing.
How successful is this new treatment? Almost 70 babies have been born (around the world) as a result of frozen ovarian tissue. In 2015, a Belgian woman was able to conceive and give birth to a baby, using ovarian tissue she had frozen before puberty. 14 years earlier, she underwent the procedure before being treated for sickle cell anemia. Now, she has a baby thanks to the simple surgery and cryopreservation.
Ovarian cryopreservation offers hope for the otherwise hopeless (in terms of fertility, anyway). It gives women suffering from cancer a fighting chance at a happy future. Thanks to this procedure, the 23,000+ women diagnosed with cancer each year may one day be able to have a family.