According to a Japanese medical school, three cancer patients in their 30s and 40s have successfully given birth using their frozen ovaries while undergoing cancer treatments, giving hope to pediatric cancer patients who haven’t had their period yet.
The findings came during a clinical study conducted at St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, which developed the fertility treatment technique. The three cases are the first known deliveries in Japan using a technique involving women who have undergone cancer treatment.
The photo shows a transplant operation of a frozen ovary. (Courtesy of Professor Nao Suzuki of St. Marianna University School of Medicine) (Kyodo)
Cancer patients could lose the ability to conceive if chemotherapy or radiation damages their ovaries.
St. Marianna’s technique should therefore offer patients more options for preserving their fertility before their therapies begin, and pre-pubertal patients are most likely to benefit because their eggs are difficult to harvest.
During the clinical study, the ovaries of cancer patients are sliced and quickly frozen after removal of the organs by minimally invasive surgery. After patients undergo cancer therapies, the ovaries are thawed and returned to their old location or close to the membrane. The ovaries contain many eggs.
The medical school has been using the technique in a clinical study since 2010, with 13 women having received ovary transplants this way to date.
As a result, three women who had previously undergone therapies for breast cancer or malignant lymphoma cancer gave birth between 2020 and this year.
The women, including one in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan, gave birth after becoming pregnant either naturally or through in vitro fertilization.
There are also other options available for cancer patients, such as freezing fertilized eggs or unfertilized eggs. But these options have been found to be difficult to pursue because menstrual cycles do not necessarily coincide with the time patients have before their therapies begin and because therapies must be interrupted to pursue such procedures.
This left the ovary freezing procedure as a viable option as it avoided having to wait for the right time to harvest the eggs.
Today, however, advances in technology have made it possible for doctors to harvest eggs at any time. This in turn shifted the focus of St. Marianna’s clinical study to children whose eggs cannot be harvested.
“The latest results may be a boon for those who have their ovaries frozen in hopes of having a baby one day, while facing fears of cancer squarely,” said Nao Suzuki, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the faculty of medicine.
“You put the cart before the horse if cancer treatment is delayed because you wanted to preserve the ovaries,” the professor said, noting that efforts are being made to better coordinate with pediatricians to inform patients and their parents of their options in a timely manner.
For Shizuka Ochi, the 42-year-old Hyogo woman who gave birth to a boy in October last year, the ovary freezing procedure was just what she needed to fight her cancer.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, the nurse had one of her ovaries removed in March 2014. After undergoing hormone therapy, she recovered the ovary in June 2019. She later became pregnant by in vitro fertilization.
“I wanted to have a chance to get pregnant and give birth after my therapy, in order to work positively on my cancer treatment,” Ochi said.
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