23 April 2014
Hope for cancer patients - National Fertility Preservation database launched
Australia’s first National Fertility Preservation Database will track and report male and female cancer survivors in a bid to help measure their risk of ovarian or testicular failure.
Currently, there is very limited long-term data on the effect of cancer treatment on fertility or the outcomes for those who seek assisted reproductive treatment.
About one in every 570 Australian women and one in 490 men of reproductive age is affected each year by various forms of cancer.
“It is possible that only 50 per cent of young patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Australia are referred to discuss fertility preservation options from our experience,” said A/Prof Kate Stern, Melbourne IVF Fertility Specialist and Head Fertility Preservation Service, The Royal Women’s Hospital.
Jane McNab was 24 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and referred by her oncologist to A/Prof Stern.
"I was in a relationship but had not thought about having children yet. I thought that was something I would do after I was 30," she said.
Following a difficult conversation with her partner Jane decided to freeze some of her eggs before commencing cancer treatment.
Jane welcomes the introduction of the new cancer fertility database as it will ensure that records are accurate and kept in a central location.
Women who undergo cancer treatment can have their ovaries damaged by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or there may be damage to the uterus or fallopian tubes following surgery or radiotherapy, and in some cases the ovaries may need to be removed.
For men, cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment can affect sperm quality or production.
“There are measures that can be taken to preserve fertility for these patients and one of the major challenges is to improve public awareness of those options, and their chances of success.
It is critical that oncologists are aware of the importance of fertility preservation treatments and refer their patients promptly where there is an immediate need to start cancer treatment,” A/Prof Stern said.
“In egg freezing, it has been shown that cancer patients have a similar rate of success in achieving pregnancies as other patients undergoing treatment for infertility”
Before women commence cancer treatment they can preserve their fertility through several options including freezing eggs, embryos and/or ovarian tissue for later use in IVF. There are also medications that can protect the ovaries from damage during chemotherapy. The type of cancer and treatment plan will determine the best method of fertility preservation.
For men before they begin chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment, sperm can be frozen and stored for future use in IVF.
The National Fertility Preservation Database will be managed independently by the University of New South Wales.