Ovary tissue freezing gives hope to women diagnosed with cancer - AmericaNowNews.com

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Ovary tissue freezing gives hope to women diagnosed with cancer

One out of 46 women under the age of 40 in the U.S. is diagnosed with some form of cancer annually.

For a large number of these women, this diagnosis comes at a time when many are thinking about starting a family.

While chemotherapy and radiation often leaves a woman unable to conceive, a new technique is giving hope to those who thought having children would be impossible by putting their biological clock on ice.

Sheila Johnston was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on October 22, 2012.

A few weeks later, she noticed her 16-year-old daughter, Hailey, was very ill. Sheila assumed Hailey was sick from school, or was overwhelmed by having to take over so many of the household duties in light of Sheila's sickness.

When Hailey's chest X-ray results came back, a doctor told her the mass was consistent with her mother's lymphoma.

Less than two months after her mother's diagnosis, Hailey was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma on December 14.

"I felt like I was getting clubbed in the stomach," Sheila Johnston told America Now's Casey Roman.

Hailey felt angry when she heard the diagnosis, but she started paying more attention to the patient experience stories her mother was reading online.

While putting her little sister to bed one night, Hailey realized that she, too, may loose her fertility because of the chemotherapy and radiation.

That's when Hailey said she realized, "I'm gonna get my babies frozen."  

A few days prior to Hailey's treatment, she underwent ovarian tissue freezing with the hope of preserving her fertility.

The medical term for this procedure is Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation, and it is a developing revolution for women with cancer or ovarian failure.

"You have the ability to freeze hundreds of eggs or even thousands of eggs," said Dr. Michelle Matthews, Director of Fertility Preservation at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, NC.

The procedure is relatively new and there have been only 21 pregnancies achieved through this method world-wide.

Nevertheless, Hailey said the procedure provided her the greatest chance of one day having a future family since she realized delaying treatment wasn't an option.

Unlike traditional egg or embryo banking, which typically harvests about 10 to 20 eggs, what's dramatically different about tissue freezing is the sheer volume of eggs saved and time.

And this is time people like Hailey and other cancer patients simply don't have.

"The problem is, sometimes, people say 'Well, I don't have two to three weeks' and it's particularly true in lymphoma patients like Hailey," Matthews pointed out. "Those patients typically have to start their chemotherapy within a few days."

A delay in chemotherapy treatment could result in severe health risks.

Current egg-freezing techniques require weeks of hormone injections and waiting for the eggs to mature. Furthermore, doses of hormone injections can actually make some cancers worse.

However, ovarian tissue freezing can be done upon diagnosis and even before puberty.

The entire ovary is removed and thin strips are grafted off the outside where the eggs are located. The eggs are then frozen until after treatment, and implanted back on the ovary when the woman is healthy enough for pregnancy.

"We really need to think about these things on the front end because once chemotherapy and radiation start, it's really too late," Matthews said.  

The effect of cancer treatment on fertility depends on the type of cancer, where it is located, a person's age, and their response during treatment.

Today, both Sheila and Hailey are cancer free.

"I'm really proud of her," Sheila Johnston said referring to her daughter. "She's gone from girl to woman in eight months, and it's been remarkable to watch her."

Hailey had the foresight to make a decision doctors are urging all women to make when faced with a cancer diagnosis.

They recommend you prepare for treatment, but not without planning for your future -- for life after cancer.  

The Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology does not recommend ovary tissue freezing be done electively for a woman hoping to preserve her fertility. Instead, it should be reserved for patients at imminent risk.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information: 

You can follow Sheila and Hailey Johnston's story on their Facebook page at (https://www.facebook.com/shielasjourney).

The American Cancer Society has answers to numerous questions pertaining to this topic in this FAQs sheet entitled, "Fertility and Cancer: What Are My Options?" (Source: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002854-pdf.pdf).

Click here to read an article published by the Mayo Clinic entitled, "Fertility preservation: Understand your options before cancer treatment" (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fertility-preservation/MY01616).

Click here to read an article published by The Infertility Center of St. Louis at St. Luke's Hospital entitled, "Preservation of Future Fertility Through Ovarian Tissue Freezing (Source: http://www.infertile.com/infertility-treatments/freeze2.htm).

Click here to read an NPR report entitled, "Chance To Pause Biological Clock With Ovarian Transplant Stirs Debate" (Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/12/24/167705397/chance-to-pause-biological-clock-with-ovarian-transplant-stirs-debate).

Click here to read an NBC News report entitled "Cancer survivors keep fertility with new treatment" (Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer-survivors-keep-fertility-new-treatment-1C6642263).

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