Cancer patients can preserve their fertility

Since one of the side effects of chemotherapy is infertility, the Tata hospital's Tissue Bank Department is planning to create facilities to preserve eggs embryos and sperm of patients, so they have the option of having children after treatment

For years, cancer patients have had to make the unenviable choice between slow painful death and the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.

The possibility of infertility from chemotherapy depends on
the dose, and the toxicity of the dosage administered

In some cases, chemotherapy improves their chances of survival, but leaves behind permanent damage, denying young people of childbearing age of the pleasures of parenthood, by rendering them infertile.

But there's hope yet for young adults who fall prey to the disease. The Tata Medical hospital is planning to create banks to preserve eggs, sperms and embryos of patients, so they have the option of bearing children, once they have been cured.

Infertility is one of the possible side effects of chemotherapy. Keeping in mind that the leaps and strides made in cancer treatment have ensured a greater chance of survival among cured patients, Tata hospital's Tissue Bank Department, along with the National Institute of Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) has completed a survey it undertook to examine the need to preserve the childbearing faculty among cancer patients. The results said it all - a whopping 97 per cent of patients said that they wanted to preserve their fertility.

Head of the Department of Onco-Gynaecology, at TMH, Dr Rajendra Kerkar, said, "The effect of chemotherapy on the fertility of men and women depends on the dose, and the toxicity of the dosage. For example, in cases of adolescent cancers and breast cancer, one of the side effects of chemotherapy is infertility."

The department had surveyed 75 patients in the age group of 18-40 years, of which 82 per cent were below 30 years of age. 78 per cent said that they were aware that infertility was one of the possible effects of the treatments they were undergoing.

A total of 22 of the patients said that it was easy for them to talk to their doctors about fertility, while a majority said that it was not a priority while discussing cancer treatments and their side effects.

Thirty-three of the 75 patients agreed that loss of fertility would have an impact on their marriage, and nine said that it would be a burden on their family.

A total of 56 per cent of the interviewed patients said that their ability to have children would have a major impact on their lives. Dr Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, heading the tissue bank of TMH, said, "The survey reveals the need for a cryo- preserving facility for cancer patients.
This facility though available in the private sector, is out of the reach of patients at TMH. In our survey, 72 per cent patients said that the cost of the procedure is the biggest concern for them. Keeping this in mind, we want to create a cell bank at our hospital."

Doctors opined that many patients coming to the hospital are of childbearing age, and no longer look at cancer with a fatalistic attitude anymore.

Once the bank is operational in the future, doctors feel that embryo preservation in cases of married couples and ovum and sperm freezing for adults will become a part and parcel of cancer treatment at the hospital.

Senior scientist, Dr Deepa Bhartiya, NIRRH, Stem Cell Biology Department, said, "Almost 80-85 per cent of young patients are being cured of cancer due to better drugs, so now we need to focus on the quality of life of cancer survivors and help them have biological parenthood rather than the available options of donor gametes.

We plan to provide fertility preservation options to cancer patients prior to initiating cancer treatment, since infertility is a common side effect of cancer treatment. We have already established methods to preserve reproductive tissue and will thus work with TMH to establish banks."

Director of NIRRH, Dr S D Kholkute, said, "This was research of international interest, but it is still in an experimental stage."

"We might need to preserve the eggs or sperms for anywhere between 5-10 years and also require fertility experts to do an IVF or an IUI, depending on the case. Oncologists perceive the need for affordable preservation of eggs, sperms and embryos for patients," added Kelkar.

Senior gynaecologist and IVF expert Dr Indira Hinduja, said, "It is a positive step in treatment if younger cancer patients, offering them the chance of leading more normal lives."

Did you know?
Till date, 18 babies have been born to the cancer survivors in the Western world, using cryo-preserved ovarian tissue

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