Fertility After Cancer large

Losing your fertility along with your hair are common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. But there’s a proactive approach, still in the experimental phase, which is resulting in a much happier outcome for some. 

“The process is much like a kidney transplant or skin grafting."

How Ovarian Tissue Freezing Works

This technique, called ovarian tissue freezing, involves removing all or part of your ovary before your cancer treatment begins. The removed tissue is frozen. Once your cancer treatment ends, the tissue is transplanted back into your body. 

Steven Lindheim, MD, Wright State Physicians Obstetrics and Gynecology, is part of a national consortium of physicians taking part in ovarian tissue freezing. “In this procedure, we remove a patient’s ovarian tissue laparoscopically, often at the same time that her surgeon is removing cancer tissue to determine the stage of her cancer,” he explains. “It’s a fairly harmless surgery.”

Fertility After Cancer small

Once the ovary is removed, it is carefully sliced and then frozen until the patient has completed cancer treatment and is prepared to have a baby. “This can be years later,” says Dr. Lindheim, “especially if the patient was a child or adolescent when the tissue was removed.”

Re-implanting the tissue also is done laparoscopically as an outpatient procedure at some point in the future. Ideally, over the two to 10 days after this procedure, your tissue will reconnect to the surrounding blood vessels. “The process is much like a kidney transplant or skin grafting,” says Dr. Lindheim. If successful, fertility is restored within 8 to 10 weeks and your body begins developing eggs. Along the way, monthly blood tests monitor your hormones. If your hormone levels begin to rise, ultrasounds will determine if your body is developing eggs.

What Are the Results of Ovarian Tissue Freezing So Far?

The procedure, done worldwide since the early 2000s, is offering hope for women and girls who want to have a baby someday but are facing cancer treatment that often destroys their fertility. A 2016 study published in the journal Reproductive Sciences, looked at 309 women worldwide who underwent the procedure; 84 births resulted. As the technology of freezing and thawing tissue improves, success rates are also likely to improve, says Dr. Lindheim.