According to a recent article published in The Lancet , the cryopreservation of strips of ovarian tissue and subsequent implantation into the abdomen of a female patient resulted in fertility following treatment for breast cancer.1
Chemotherapy is a common treatment option for patients with various stages of breast cancer. Unfortunately, chemotherapy may render a woman infertile due to the effects of the chemotherapy agents on the ovaries. Pre-menopausal women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and wish to have children in the future may be devastated by the fact that they may become infertile from treatment. Researchers have been evaluating ways in which to preserve fertility in premenopausal women who are to receive chemotherapy while maintaining the effectiveness of treatment.
One area of active investigation surrounding fertility issues is the cryopreservation (freezing at very low temperatures) of eggs or strips of ovarian tissue that are involved in the maturation and release of eggs. The strips of ovarian tissue may then be transplanted back into the patient’s body. One previous clinical study evaluated the feasibility of the transplantation of strips of ovarian tissue into the forearm of patients who were undergoing pelvic radiation or the surgical removal of their ovaries.2 The transplantation resulted in successful endocrine (hormonal) function and subsequent release of eggs from the ovarian strips, leading to the potential of future pregnancy.
Researchers from Cornell University recently conducted a clinical study involving a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. The patient was to undergo high-dose chemotherapy, including the agent cyclophosphamide which is associated with a high rate of infertility. Researchers removed ovarian tissue strips from the patient prior to therapy and cryopreserved them for 6 years. After 6 years, the tissue was implanted into the patient’s abdomen. Normal follicle (egg) development and estrogen production occurred following transplantation. Researchers were able to retrieve and fertilize one of the eggs with the sperm from the patient’s husband.
The researchers concluded that long-term cryopreservation and transplantation of tissue strips from ovaries may ultimately lead to normal hormone and egg production, with the possibility of child-bearing capabilities in women who are treated with chemotherapy. Premenopausal women who are to undergo treatment with chemotherapy that is highly associated with infertility may wish to speak with their physician about cryopreservation or the participation in a clinical trial further evaluating fertility issues.
1. Oktay K, Buyuk E, Veeck L, et al. Embryo Development after Heterotopic Transplantation of Cryopreserved Ovarian Tissue. The Lancet. 2004;363:837-840.
2. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol 286, No 12, pp 1490-1493, 2001.
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