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Getting Pregnant if You Have Cancer – Ovarian Transplants for Infertile Women

Female cancer survivors can get pregnant! If you’re infertile because of cancer treatments, don’t lose hope: doctors are practicing ovarian transplants to help women with cancer conceive babies.

“We are in the middle of a massive global infertility epidemic, caused by the new structure of our society where women choose not to have children until they are older,” said Dr. Sherman Silber, Director of the St. Louis Infertility Centre. “As a result, many of them become infertile because of the aging of their eggs and ovaries.”

To learn more about female infertility, cancer treatments, and getting pregnant, read Having Children After Cancer: How to Make Informed Choices Before and After Treatment and Build the Family of Your Dreams.

And, here’s what doctors are doing with ovarian transplants and infertile women…

Why Ovarian Transplants for Infertile Women?

“This procedure is a solution…allowing women to have children when they are older by preserving their ovaries when they are younger and transplanting them back at a later date,” says Dr Silber. “It can also be used to preserve the fertility of young women with cancer who are likely to be cured of their cancer, but who will become sterile as a result of the cancer treatment without such intervention.”

Getting Pregnant if You Have Cancer

Ultra-fast freezing of ovarian tissue from women who have lost their fertility as a result of cancer treatment can lead to it being used in transplants with the same success rate as fresh tissue, Dr Silber said at the 25th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Freezing tissue by the vitrification method, which avoids ice formation, meant that oocyte (egg) viability was almost identical with that seen in fresh oocytes. This means that female cancer survivors may be able to get pregnant, almost as if they’d never had the treatment.

The research method. Dr. Silber and colleagues used standard viability testing with fluorescent microscopy to determine the loss or preservation of oocytes in fresh and frozen ovarian tissue of 15 young women undergoing cancer treatment. They also followed up nine homozygotic twin patients after fresh ovary transplantation for the duration of ovarian function and pregnancy outcome, and tested spare tissue that had also been frozen from their ovaries at the time of transplant. Tissue was preserved either by rapid cooling vitrification or by classical slow freezing methods.

“We found that 91.9% of the fresh oocytes were viable compared with 88.9% of those vitrified. However, slow freezing resulted in a 56% loss of viability,” said Dr. Silber.

The results. Transplantation of the tissue resulted in a duration of ovarian function of more than four years in five of the seven cases followed up for that long, and all patients regained a normal ovarian cycle within four to five months after the transplant. There was no difference in terms of pregnancy or ovulatory menstrual cycling between fresh and frozen grafts. The scientists used the cortical grafting technique, where very thin slices of tissue are transplanted. This technique is much easier to perform than the delicate microvascular technique, which they described last year in an effort to prevent egg loss and to lengthen the duration of ovarian graft function.

With the microvascular technique, the tiny blood vessels supplying the ovary are directly linked, and ischemia time, during which blood supply is restricted, is minimized. However, this is a very difficult operation not available in most reproductive centres. With the cortical grafting technique, ischemia time for revascularisation was always thought to be a limiting factor, not to mention the deleterious effect of freezing. However, very thin cortical slices not only allow the tissue to be frozen by vitrification, but also accelerate the speed of revascularisation of the ovarian graft.

Ovarian transplants for infertile women. “We believed that microvascular transplant would give us a longer duration of ovarian function,” said Dr. Silber, “but our current research has proved us wrong. This is not only good news for surgeons, but also for patients who will be able to undergo a simpler procedure with equally successful results.”

Out of the eight women who received cortical transplants, six have had one or more spontaneous pregnancies, resulting in the birth of seven healthy babies.

For more information on different ways to get pregnant, read Should You Donate Your Eggs to Help Other Women Get Pregnant?

If you have any thoughts or questions on getting pregnant if you have cancer, please comment below…

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Source: ScienceDaily “Ovarian Transplantation: New Technique Gives Greatly Improved Results in This Delicate Operation.”

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2 thoughts on “Getting Pregnant if You Have Cancer – Ovarian Transplants for Infertile Women”

  1. Dear Marie,

    I am sorry to hear about your cancer, and the effects of the cancer treatments. But, congratulations on being cancer free — and being brave enough to think about getting pregnant again!

    Before I can answer your question, I need to clarify something. Do you mean that your daughter is willing to donate an EGG or an OVARY? Those are two different things…and I actually don’t think it’s possible to donate an ovary to a woman.

    I’ll assume you mean egg donation! Here’s an article that may help:

    Should You Donate Your Eggs to Help Other Women Get Pregnant?

    Egg donation does not affect a woman’s future fertility. So, if your daughter donated an egg, she’d be just as fertile and get pregnant just as easily if she hadn’t donated.

    Adoption and fostering are two other options, of course. So is embryo donation! Here’s an article on donating embryos:

    What is Embryo Donation? For Women Who Can’t Get Pregnant

    I also suggest that you go to two fertility clinics for a consultation. Getting an in-person exam and discussing your options with a reproductive specialist is your best bet for getting pregnant after surviving cancer.

    I hope this helps, and wish you all the best.


  2. I had just moved into a new home in February of 2005 and decided it was time to have another child. I had a few repeat pap smears that year prior. That very same month I was diagnosed with vaginal cancer at the age of 35. Not fully aware of all of my options, I had radiation treatments and Brachetherapy with radiation tubes inserted into my vagina. My period stopped in September that year and immediately I went through menopause. I was told that my ovaries had shrunk and had not had a period since. I have been cancer free for almost six years and considering my options for becoming pregnant again. I do have a daughter who is 19 and would be willing to give me an ovary but I do not know what the cost would be for her to have kids in the future. What options do I have?