For families of children with cancer, the focus is always on getting better no matter what. But sometimes the chemotherapy that saves their lives can kill their chances of ever being able to have kids of their own. Now, U.S. doctors are working to preserve fertility in cancer patients as young as five months old.
When 17-year-old Katie Palermo learned her leukemia was back, her main concern was chemo, not kids. Katie said, “it’s just kind of like, school, friends. I’m not thinking about having kids.”
But her mother knew Katie might feel differently in ten years. She also knew it was likely a second bout of chemo would destroy any future hopes for children.
Katie’s mother, Joan Vander Linde said, “Kate said to me at first, ‘Mom, I can’t imagine adoption being a bad option.’ I said, yeah, but I still want you to have this one.”
Not too long ago, Katie’s only option would’ve been to harvest her eggs, but a new option involves removing one ovary and
Erin Rowell, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said, “the ovary is actually sectioned into very thin strips so that later on down the road, when that tissue is ready to be used, it’s not necessary to thaw or unfreeze the whole ovary at one time. You can unfreeze just the strips that are needed.”
Researchers are working to grow a human egg from stem cells in ovarian tissue. A similar procedure can be done to preserve sperm in boys.
“So in our youngest patient who was five months old, he had between one-third and one-half of his testicle removed, which gave plenty of tissue to be frozen for later use,” detailed Dr. Rowell.
Doctors hope the technology grows as the young patients do.
“I wasn’t thinking about having kids then, and I’m still not thinking about it, but I feel I’m going to be happy that I have that option later in life,” said Katie.
There are only 18 hospitals in the country that offer the ability to freeze ovarian or testicular tissue.
A pregnancy using eggs from frozen ovary tissue has not been done in the U.S. However, last year in Belgium a 28-year-old cancer survivor gave birth after doctors restored her fertility using frozen ovary tissue removed when she was just 13 years old.