Cancer Treatment: Did they tell you it could cause infertility?

Those who take the first steps down the rocky road of medical care sometimes find it can be a journey without end.

One example is the cancer patient who undergoes the horrors of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Hundreds of thousands of women who have endured this therapy then find themselves infertile. Ovarian failure and permanent uterine damage are common side effects of the therapy, although it would be interesting to know just how many patients are warned about this beforehand.

According to Johan Smitz at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Brussels, those who survive the treatment are often ‘devastated’ to discover they are functionally castrated. This suggests that few, if any, patients are told of the likely consequences.

So what to do? One solution is cryopreservation of ovarian tissue. Follicles are taken from the ovaries before cancer therapy begins, and then frozen and stored at a temperature of minus 196 degrees Centigrade. After treatment, they are then placed back in the woman.

The transplant has been carried out on one 30-year-old woman at a New York hospital whose ovaries began functioning normally within three months of transplantation.

Does this one success give the green light to mass transplantation? Probably not, and longer-term effects need to be monitored before it can be said to be a safe and effective remedy.

More to the point, the oncologist would have to tell the patient likely reactions before beginning therapy. And would quite so many elect for treatment, we muse?

(Source: The Lancet, 2004; 363: 837-40).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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