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Fertility preservation hope for cancer patients

10 July 2008
Appeared in BioNews 466

A group of German researchers has reported a new technique that will increase the chances of preserving fertility in women having treatment for cancer. The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona, offer new hope to female cancer patients hoping to conceive in the future.

Women undergoing treatment for cancer can opt to have their eggs collected and frozen for future IVF treatments. This is something many choose to do as chemotherapy and radiotherapy techniques can damage ovaries, sometimes permanently. The current process requires stimulation of the ovaries on the first day of the menstrual cycle, followed by harvesting of the eggs. Problems arise when the cancer diagnosis comes later in the cycle, as a woman could have to wait two to six weeks before it is possible to collect eggs, hence delaying potentially life-saving therapies.

Dr Michael von Wolff, of the Department of Gynaecological Endocrinology and Reproduction Medicine at the University Heidelberg, Germany, says: 'two weeks is an acceptable amount of time in many diseases to wait before starting a cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, but three to six weeks is far too long'.

Von Wolff led the group of researchers in a pilot study of 40 women, to look at whether it was possible to initiate ovarian stimulation during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (the stage between ovulation and the start of menstruation). They administered a drug known as a GnRH-antagonist, which blocks a key hormone in the luteal stage, and then a standard follicle stimulation hormone (FSH) to women in the luteal stage. The ovaries were stimulated in about 12 days and 10 eggs were produced, compared with 10 days and 13 eggs in the women whose ovaries were stimulated early in their cycle. Approximately the same percentages of eggs were viable in the two groups.

They conclude that it is possible to harvest mature eggs in an average of two weeks from women in the late stage of their menstrual cycle before cancer treatment commences. Von Wolff hopes to disseminate information about this new method to oncologists around the world to help them preserve their patients' fertility. 'I am desperately working to try to have everybody who does fertility to know about it', he says.

Fertility breakthrough doubles chance of women with cancer having children
The Daily Mail |  7 July 2008
New fertility technique targets women with cancer
Reuters |  7 July 2008
New Ovarian Stimulation Technique Offers More Cancer Patients The Chance To Preserve Their Fertility
Science Daily |  9 July 2008
New way to help women hit by cancer treatment have babies
The Daily Telegraph |  7 July 2008
1 October 2012 - by Emma Stoye 
Two proteins that kick-start the destruction of damaged mouse eggs have been discovered by scientists. The findings may go on to have applications in fertility preservation for female cancer patients who receive aggressive treatment...
11 June 2012 - by Valerie Peddie 
Major professional bodies support the concept of providing every patient of reproductive age with accurate information about the potential risk of impaired fertility after treatment for cancer. In reality, the immediate emphasis is often on treatment, with little time available to discuss options for fertility preservation...
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