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Cutting Edge in RI: New Fertility Strategies for Children with Cancer

Monday, May 03, 2010


When we consider the attack of childhood cancers, striking one in 500 children, we take comfort in the evolution of aggressive treatments that now cure more than 75 percent of those children. 

This is good news.

But what is often unrealized is the price those therapies exact.  Aggressive cancer therapies may often render a child infertile. “Having a child diagnosed with cancer is a parent’s worst nightmare," says Sandra A. Carson, MD, director of the Center for Reproduction and Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital.  "But juxtaposing the knowledge that your child may survive, and then may never be able to naturally have children of her own, can be heart-wrenching."

Now, with a revolutionary program here in Rhode Island, this may no longer be the case.  The Program for Fertility Preservation at Women & Infants, working with the Division of Oncology at Hasbro Children's Hospital, is developing cutting edge technologies that allow families of young patients to preserve ovarian tissues before destructive therapies take their toll. 

Previously, cancer patients who had begun menstruation had the option to preserve eggs for in-vitro fertilization at a later date, says Jared Robins, MD, director of the Program for Fertility Preservation. Now, Robins says, a broader approach—freezing healthy ovarian tissue from a patient of any age and reapplying it to failed ovaries later on—targets overall sexual function and fertility.  And allows a young patient not yet menstruating to return to the prospect of healthy egg production later in her life, or IVF from eggs later harvested from that healthy ovarian tissue.

This experimental approach, supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, has been undertaken with patients as young as two years old, says Robins.  "Although we are far from knowing all of the facts about its efficacy," he says, "we do believe that we can give a promise of fertility to these young cancer survivors.”

Women & Infants is one of a few hospitals nationwide, and only in New England, enrolling children.


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