Future Fertility Treatment For Children

A small number of children’s hospitals are offering to save reproductive tissue from children undergoing cancer treatment.

As is well known chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, but also damages or destroys some healthy cells – infertility is frequently an unfortunate permanent side effect of treatment.

Adults of a suitable age undergoing cancer treatment have long been offered the chance to preserve eggs or sperm for later use.

However, now doctors have begun offering this as a possible option to immature patients, so that one-day they may be able to have children. The procedure involves removing and freezing ovary and testes tissue. This tissue is not actually mature, but it has the potential to be in the future. The tissue is frozen and stored, some of the tissue is also sent to research labs so that researchers can actually work out how to make the immature tissue mature or whether immature tissue can be successfully reintroduced. The procedure is usually carried out during another operation, so that it does not mean yet another operation for the young patients.

Since 2005 the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (recognised experts) has saved tissue from approximately 40 girls, aged 3 and upward and 50 boys – the youngest of whom was just 3 months.

Some of these children have since died due to their cancers, but many have survived. The 80% survival rate for children with cancer means that this treatment looks ahead to their adulthood and leading a full life after cancer treatment.

It is still early days for the research, but in Belgium a woman has successfully given birth after a normal pregnancy. Some of her ovarian tissue was removed when she was 13 before she underwent extreme treatment for sickle cell anaemia. At the time of freezing her cells did show some signs of maturity. Ten years later her stored tissue was thawed and portions grafted into her remaining ovary.