YOUNG women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer now have the opportunity to conceive later in life, thanks to safe and effective ovarian transplants.
Transplants of tissue that has been removed, stored, and transplanted back into the same women may survive for at least 10 years in some patients and allow pregnancy in many, with little risk of triggering a relapse of ovarian cancer. Tissue is removed prior to cancer treatment, to be replaced later in order to preserve fertility. The current research contradicts the previously-held fear that the cancer would return due to the reintroduction of cancer cells in the transplanted tissue.
Since 2000, nearly 800 women have had tissue frozen in Denmark. The study followed 41 women over 10 years, who received a total of 53 transplantations of thawed tissue between 2003 and 2014. The researchers assessed ovarian function, fertility, and the safety of the procedure. The average age at the time of tissue freezing was 29.8 years and 33 years at the time of the first transplant.
Of the 41 women, 32 women hoped to conceive. Ten (31%) were successful and had at least one child (14 children in total), including one woman soon to give birth at the time of the study. Eight children were conceived naturally post-transplantation, and six were conceived with the aid of in vitro fertilisation. Two women became pregnant 5 years post-transplantation, indicating that the tissue maintains fertility even after prolonged periods of time.
Dr Annette Jensen, Laboratory of Reproductive Biology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark, said: “As far as we know, this is the largest series of ovarian tissue transplantation performed worldwide, and these findings show that grafted ovarian tissue is effective in restoring ovarian function in a safe manner. In this series of women, the pregnancy rate was about 30%. The fact that cancer survivors are now able to have a child of their own is an immense quality of life boost for them.”
The researchers emphasised the importance of following up women after these transplant operations, and will continue to monitor the women. “We hope that our results will enable this procedure to be regarded as an established method in other parts of the world, which has an important implication on how it is funded and reimbursed,” Dr Jensen concluded.