1 February 2015

Researchers work to improve fertility preservation options for young ovarian cancer sufferers

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Melbourne IVF

Melbourne IVF as part of National Ovarian Cancer awareness month (February 1-28) urges young women facing an ovarian cancer diagnosis to learn about the fertility preservation options available as research continues to improve fertility preservation techniques.

Head of the Fertility Preservation Service at Melbourne IVF and the Royal Women’s Hospital, Associate Professor Kate Stern said teaching young women about the effects of ovarian cancer on their fertility and continuing research to advance fertility preservation techniques is crucial to raising public awareness.

“Ovarian cancer can affect women of any age, however, as the majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are near or at menopause, there is limited information available for younger women who have not yet completed their family and risk being left infertile due to the side effects of some cancer treatments, or because of the surgical removal of their ovaries,” A/Prof Stern said.

The research group at Melbourne IVF and the Women’s Hospital led by A/Prof Stern is responsible for the world’s first births from ovarian tissue grafted into a woman’s abdomen, and continue their research on improving techniques to preserve mature eggs and ovarian tissue before chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

Dr Debra Gook, lead scientist of the oocyte and ovarian tissue cryopreservation program at Melbourne IVF and the Royal Women’s Hospital said the focus is now on developing new fertility preservation techniques.

 “Whilst success has been achieved with transplanting frozen ovarian tissue back to women, conventional options may not be appropriate for some women affected by cancer of the ovary. One of our aims is to investigate an alternative approach, involving growing ovarian follicles in the laboratory . This research whilst still preliminary, is allowing us to develop an understanding of the environment and nutrients necessary for the growth of follicles outside the human body,” Dr Gook said.

“Educating women about their options is particularly important as cancer survival rates continue to rise. Failure to discuss fertility issues may result in some young women starting cancer treatment unaware of the risk to fertility until it is too late to pursue fertility-preserving options.”

“We have developed close relationships with cancer specialists throughout Victoria to help bridge this information gap by providing support and educational resources about emerging fertility preservation options to assist oncologists counselling young patients facing a cancer diagnosis” A/Prof Stern said.

Melbourne IVF Medical Director, Dr Lyndon Hale agrees we must improve public awareness and encourage women of childbearing age facing an ovarian cancer diagnosis to seek advice about their fertility preservation options.

 “For women with a desire to have children in the future, we can’t stress enough the importance of knowing and having the opportunity to discuss their fertility preservation options with a fertility specialist prior to undergoing cancer treatment” he said.

Fertility preservation options for women range from freezing of eggs, embryos, ovarian tissue as well as medications which may protect the ovaries from chemotherapy medication.

At Melbourne IVF and the Women’s Hospital, patients who are referred for medical fertility preservation will be seen by a fertility specialist within 24 hours. Even if patients decide not to proceed, they have the opportunity to be informed about their fertility preservation options now or in the future.

The Fertility Preservation Service at Melbourne IVF and the Women’s Hospital has been involved with extensive research for over 10 years, and continues to grow with more than 1500 patients registered. The Fertility Preservation Service aims to restore fertility and improve quality of life in women with permanent ovarian failure as a result of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy treatment.

Read more about Fertility Preservation 

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