It is estimated that 1 in 500 children will be diagnosed with a form of childhood cancer. With the use of aggressive treatment modalities, more than 80 percent of these children will be cured. Therefore, many of these children and their parents are looking beyond the cancer at important quality of life issues including future children.
Jennifer Welch, MD, pediatric oncologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Jared Robins, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and leader of the Program for Fertility Preservation at Women & Infants Hospital, are co-principal investigators of a unique program that offers ovarian preservation to children who undergo cancer treatment.
Unfortunately, some aggressive treatments for cancer can render a child infertile. The likelihood that this will occur depends on the child’s age, type of cancer and treatment plan. The Program for Fertility Preservation at Women & Infants Hospital offers options for fertility preservation in children, in coordination with the division of pediatric hematology/oncology at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
This program offers an experimental procedure that enables physicians to freeze tissue from the ovaries before they are damaged. Once the child is cured of her cancer and ready to have children this tissue may be transplanted back into her body or eggs may be extracted from the tissue for in vitro fertilization.
These experimental studies are being conducted with the support of the National Institute of Health’s Oncofertility Consortium, with the hope of determining how best to freeze the ovarian tissue of young girls. The Women & Infants/Hasbro Children's site is one of only a few in the country and the only one in New England to be enrolling children.
In 2010, the pediatric oncofertility team at Women & Infants and Hasbro Children’s hospitals completed a surgical procedure on a 17-month-old Rhode Island girl who was battling cancer. This is the youngest known patient to undergo pediatric fertility preservation under the Oncofertility Consortium.
In 2011, Robins cryopreserved an ovary of a two-year-old girl from Ohio who was battling a stage four neuroblastoma. This surgical procedure, which was performed at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, offers the hope of fertility when this patient completes her treatment.
Robins says, “Freezing part of a child’s ovary to preserve her fertility 20 or 30 years down the line is a research procedure. Although we are far from knowing all of the facts about its efficacy, we do believe that we can give a hope of fertility to these young cancer survivors.”
Each year, the pediatric oncology program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital sees approximately 60 new patients diagnosed with cancer. As a treatment plan is developed, Welch discusses the possibility of harvesting ovarian tissue with patients, and coordinates with the pediatric surgeon and Robins’ team. Ideally, harvesting can be done at the same time as another oncology-related operation on the child at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Both teams are present in the operating room, and Robins continues fertility preservation procedures from there on.
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Hasbro Children's Hospital
593 Eddy Street
Providence, RI 02903