Preserving a woman's fertility is a big question mark when it comes to treating her cancer. And of course, treating the cancer effectively has to be first priority.
Doctors currently and in the past have encouraged cancer patients to freeze eggs for IVF before undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. IVF makes pregnancy possible for many women even after cancer treatment, and until just recently it was really the only hope for pregnancy after cancer.
Ovarian transplant is the latest fertility preservation method for women with cancer.
Dr. Sherman Silber who heads up the infertility clinic in St. Louis began his research with freezing ovarian tissue several years ago. After performing years of successful animal trials, Silber offered to attempt the process on a female 19 year old cancer patient.
The patient, Amy, had ovarian tissue removed and frozen before she underwent a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. About ten years later, after winning her battle against cancer, Amy decided she wanted children.
Though Amy was 31 years old at the time of her ovarian transplant, her ovaries were still technically only 19 years old. A few months following the transplant Amy’s ovaries began working on their own, and about a year later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Amy is not the only success story for ovarian transplant, nor is Dr. Silber the only doctor performing ovarian transplant anymore.
Claus Yding Andersen, professor and MD in Denmark, says about 15 transplants have occurred at his clinic. Silber estimates the total number of children born as a result of ovarian transplant worldwide to now be well above ten.
One benefit of ovarian transplant over IVF is the simplicity of the procedure. As Dr. Silber says of ovarian transplant, “actually it is just a simple outpatient procedure, and not very invasive, compared to months of hormonal stimulation and multiple cycles of treatment required for IVF or egg freezing.''
President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, William Gibbons, says in an official statement that "There is no question that the science behind ovarian tissue preservation and transplantation continues to advance. It is an exciting and rapidly advancing field of research. While this work is exciting, we still have much to learn before these treatments can be put into broad clinical use."
One of the more discouraging notes about ovarian transplant is that insurance companies currently will not cover the procedure as they qualify it under fertility treatments. Dr. Silber is arguing to have ovarian transplant considered a result of cancer treatment, and therefore a procedure insurance companies would have to cover.
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