Dealing with childhood cancer is probably one of the most testing, upsetting and stressful times a family could face
But with long term childhood cancer survival rates thankfully on the rise, research and development is making the hope just a little bit easier.
However, with cancer comes fears of future fertility problems and until now this has had to take a back seat in favour of treating the cancer. Now though, things could be different
Six year old Frankie Knowles mum, Erica Avello, knows the pain of childhood cancer only too well, after Frankie was diagnosed with a bleed on the brain caused by a rare form of childhood brain cancer that had also spread to four different areas of his spine.
Chemotherapy, amongst an aggressive regime of treatment, was the only answer for Frankie, and it was then that that family met with Danielle Morley, the hospital’s fertility preservation coordinator.
Danielle told Erica that she “may want to consider that someday Frankie may want to have kids”. Many cancer treatments have the side effect of potential future fertility problems, and fertility preservation is often discussed with adult cancer patients. Before beginning their cancer treatment, women are given the opportunity to freeze their eggs and men are able to preserve their sperm.
But in children that haven’t yet entered puberty, this hasn’t been an option. Until now.
New techniques in cryopreserving (freezing) ovarian and testicular tissue are now making it possible to include children in the fertility preservation conversation
The tissue can be surgically removed, frozen and stored, in the hope that in later life, it can be grafted back into the individual, in order to produce viable eggs and sperm.
This was put to the test in a young 13 year old female living in Belgium who had received chemotherapy after having fragments of her right ovary frozen. A decade later, in 2015, the fragments were grafted back into her ovary and she went on to give birth to a healthy baby boy. In fact, there are 130 documented cases of live births to women who had ovarian tissue cryopreserved, but this was the first case of the procedure being started prior to puberty.
Preserving the fertility of young cancer patients can go a long way to improving the mental health of sufferers later in life
It also helps the parents at the time, to talk about the options for their children later in life, rather than just the current treatment, almost like a light at the end of a long tunnel.
Frankie’s future is looking much brighter after successful treatment, whilst his potential future fertility is being frozen in time