Frozen ovary yields healthy baby
Hopes raised for fertility of chemotherapy patients.
The birth of a baby to a cancer survivor has boosted doctors' confidence that they can restore the fertility of female patients who receive chemotherapy. The procedure involves removing and freezing ovarian tissue from a woman before she undergoes intensive treatments, and then surgically replacing this in her body after the therapy ends.
Another cancer survivor who underwent this operation gave birth last September. But doctors wonder whether one of her ovaries had somehow survived the chemotherapy, and if it was this, rather than the transplanted tissue, that yielded the pregnancy.
Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Israel
Along with their colleagues, they point out that the patient in this most recent case underwent a much more intensive form of chemotherapy than the 2004 patient. They add that she had definitely experienced complete ovarian failure following her cancer therapy, and had entered early menopause. This means that the egg she produced for fertilization must have come from the transplanted tissue.
"There's absolutely no doubt in this case," agrees fertility expert Françoise Shenfield, based at University College London.
The case may also provide some hope for women who have their ovarian tissue preserved after their cancer treatment has already started. This 28-year-old woman had her tissue successfully removed and frozen after she had begun a mild round of chemotherapy.
Currently, only a limited number of clinics will freeze eggs or ovarian tissue for cancer patients about to undergo chemotherapy. "This is an important deficit of cancer care," says Kutluk Oktay, director of Cornell University's fertility preservation programme in New York. But the number of people using such services is rapidly increasing, he adds.
"I am sure that, more than ever, more patients will use this procedure," says Meirow.
- Meirow D., et al. N. Engl. J. Med., Published online: doi:10.1056/nejmc055237 (2005).