We have made great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric cancers. Treating childhood cancer is no longer solely a question of survival. It is a matter of enhancing patients’ long-term quality of life and addressing the lifelong consequences of treatments received during childhood.
One common after-effect of cancer treatment is impaired fertility. The risk for fertility problems varies from child to child and is predicated on the age, type of cancer and type of treatment but can be as high as 35 percent. To minimize that risk and increase the likelihood of conceiving and carrying a baby, a multidisciplinary team of physician-scientists at Lurie Children’s use fertility-preservation strategies tailored to reflect the unique physiologic profile and specific medical needs of each patient.
In female patients who have not reached puberty, we use a procedure known as ovarian cryopreservation. The approach involves the surgical removal, freezing and long-term storage of healthy ovaries or ovarian tissues before a child undergoes chemotherapy and radiation, both of which can affect the reproductive organs.
If, down the road, the patient decides to have children, physicians can implant the intact ovary back into the body so that natural conception can be attempted. Another option is to allow immature ovarian follicles to develop into eggs and achieve pregnancy through in-vitro fertilization. It is important to note that ovarian cryopreservation for pediatric cancer patients who have not reached puberty at the time of ovarian removal is a novel technique and remains experimental. There is no guarantee of successful pregnancy but our physician-scientists and clinicians are on a quest to make this a standard procedure with a good success rate for all female pediatric cancer patients.