Preserving fertility in kids fighting cancer

March 16, 2011 8:33:05 AM PDT
There's help for teens whose cancer treatments are killing their chances of ever becoming parents.

According to the National Cancer Institute, among the 12 major types of childhood cancer, leukemia's (blood cell cancers) and cancers of the brain and central nervous system account for more than half of all new cases.

In the United States, about 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer in 2007. On average, 1 to 2 children develop the disease each year for every 10,000 children in the United States. Over the past 20 years, there has been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of invasive cancer, from 11.5 cases per 100,000 children in 1975 to 14.8 cases per 100,000 children in 2004. However, during this time, death rates have declined dramatically.

LATE EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD CANCER: While childhood cancer survival rates have improved, many of these kids will suffer "late effects" of the disease. Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery can cause problems down the road. While not all survivors will have problems, some common late effects in childhood cancer survivors include:

  • Cardiopulmonary (heart abnormalities, reduced lung function)
  • Musculoskeletal (scoliosis, asymmetry of bone or soft tissues)
  • Dental (short roots, missing teeth)
  • Eyes (cataracts)
  • Endocrine (growth failure, thyroid hypofunction, infertility)
  • Neurocognitive (learning disabilities, memory loss)
  • Psychological (depression, post-traumatic stress)
  • Second cancers/tumors, benign or malignant
  • PRESERVING PARENTHOOD IN KIDS WITH CANCER: Since certain chemotherapeutic agents may affect fertility, researchers are looking for more ways to give young girls and boys the opportunity to someday become parents. Jill Ginsberg, M.D., director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is testing an experimental procedure for girls. It involves harvesting, freezing and storing reproductive tissue before toxic treatments begin.

    During a 30-minute laparoscopic procedure, surgeons can remove a tiny piece of ovarian tissue from the cortex -- an area rich in egg follicles. These cells can be stored until the young girl is ready for the possibility of parenthood. This procedure is considered experimental, as there have only been nine pregnancies worldwide. A testicular tissue-freezing procedure is a possibility for prepubertal boys who are at high risk for infertility, but it is not as advanced.

    The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Cancer Center
    Cancer Survivorship Program
    (215) 590-0432