Preserving and implanting ovarian tissue helps maintain fertility after cancer, a recent study has shown.
Danish researchers analyzed the results of 53 ovarian tissue transplants in 41 women. The procedures, which took place between 2003 and 2014, were carried out because, following chemotherapy and radiation, fertility levels tend to be severely affected.
Doctors excised parts of ovarian tissue and froze them before cancer treatment, transplanting them back once the patients were in remission.
The average age at which these female participants had removed ovarian tissue was approximately 30, while the average age at which transplants were conducted was 33.
Doctors monitored the patients’ health for a period of 10 years, taking into account ovarian functions, fertility and the transplant’s safety.
32 of the subjects had resorted to this procedure in order to become pregnant, and 10 of them were successful, giving birth to at least one child.
In total, 14 children were born following the ovarian tissue transplants, 8 of them having been conceived through intercourse, and 6 following in vitro fertilization.
Also, as the authors report, two other women included in the study have announced they were pregnant, since the paper was published. Results are highly encouraging, because normally the chances of getting pregnant drop to less than 5% following chemotherapy and radiation.
“This procedure is gaining ground worldwide as an optional fertility treatment for fertile female cancer patients who after cancer treatment most likely will be infertile”, explained lead researcher Dr. Annette Jensen, from the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology at Righospitalet in Copenhagen.
Thanks to the implant, ovarian function is restored, and patients resume their menstrual cycles. In addition, sex hormone levels are re-balanced, in order to ward off early menopause. Therefore, quality of life is greatly improved, and chances of conceiving are also much higher.
While these results offer a glimmer of hope to cancer patients, it must be said that it took a while for fertility to return at normal levels for the women in the study.
Three of the participants gave birth more than 10 years after the initial implant, while 6 others had to wait more than 8 years.
On the other hand, it appears the procedure is safe, since no evidence of malignancy was found in transplanted tissue throughout the study period. Moreover, although 3 women experienced cancer recurrence, researchers believe the relapse wasn’t related to the implant.
There were also one miscarriage and 2 abortions, but due to reasons outside the scope of the actual procedure.
There are limitations related to this ovarian tissue implant however. For example, the transplants can’t be performed on female patients who have been affected by leukemia, because the tissue may contain cancerous cells.
Also, while pregnancy rates are promising (at 31%), researchers would like to advance the technique even further, to obtain a success rate similar to that achieved through embryo freezing (of at least 50%).
It remains to be seen which method will become the most reliable for women who wish to restore their fertility following cancer treatment.
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