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The results of a recent study published in Cancer indicate that a new procedure called ovarian autotransplantation shows promise in preserving ovarian function for women undergoing treatment for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is a malignancy that arises from the tissues of the cervix. The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus and forms the canal that becomes the vagina. Each year, approximately 15,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Before the Pap test was developed for the detection of cervical cancer, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer related death among women.

The cause of cervical cancer is almost always a virus called human papillomavirus. This virus may or may not be detected by the woman or her physician, but can cause precancerous changes in the tissues of the cervix. In most cases, the virus goes away on its own or is destroyed by the body’s defense systems; however, if the virus lingers or is not treated, the cells may become cancerous.

Current treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In younger patients, standard treatment includes surgery followed by radiation. Although this treatment is often successful in increasing cure rates, it frequently causes infertility and premature ovarian failure (menopause).

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In this recent trial, researchers sought to evaluate a new technique in which one ovary is removed from the abdomen where the patient will be receiving radiation treatment. This technique is called autotransplantation. The ovary is then implanted in another site within the woman’s body in an attempt to spare the ovary and its function from the effects of radiation exposure. In this trial, the ovary was relocated to the woman’s arm during the surgical portion of her treatment. Additional microsurgery was performed to ensure adequate blood supply to the transplanted ovary.

Clinical examination found that ovarian cycles and hormonal levels remained regular for more than 1 year. Researchers concluded that ovarian autotransplantation is a promising technique that may help preserve ovarian function in women who require treatment for cervical cancer.

Reference: Hilders C, Baranski A, Peters L, et al. Successful Human Ovarian Autotransplantation to the Upper Arm. Cancer. 2004; 101: 2771-2778.