Health

Fertility boost in child cancer cases

Child patient Image copyright SPL
Image caption Child with a brain tumour needing treatment

Children needing cancer treatment in England and Wales will be able to have their fertility preserved after a £250,000 donation.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can damage the reproductive organs in girls and boys, with one in 10 undergoing such treatment being left sterile.

The NHS does not fund the freezing of testicular or ovarian tissue needed to let patients have their own children.

But the money from fertility firm IVI has helped create a national service.

Doctors said it was "amazing" that such "groundbreaking treatment" was now available.

In 2014, a woman in Belgium was the first in the world to give birth to a baby using ovarian tissue that was frozen when she was still a child.

Relationships

"It's a very significant problem," said Dr Shelia Lane, a consultant paediatric oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

She said patients who have conquered cancer would often struggle to even form relationships knowing they could not have children.

Her site in Oxford has been offering fertility preservation on a case-by-case basis for the past two years.

But it depends on local groups of doctors deciding if individual patients should be funded or using the hospital's own charitable funds.

Image copyright SPL

Prof Lane told BBC News: "The donation will make such a significant difference to making this available to every eligible patient.

"It has given us the opportunity to make this groundbreaking treatment available to young people at risk of fertility failure and it's amazing that we can do that.

"As we accumulate more data it will be reviewed and hopefully get standard NHS funding and I think in the future it will become part of cancer treatment."

Hospital staff will have to collect the tissue from the patient and return it to Oxford in the short window between diagnosis and therapy starting.

Research

There are around 1,500 new cases of childhood cancer in people under 15, but only those at highest risk of infertility will be offered tissue freezing.

Fertility preservation costs roughly £3,000 to £5,000 per patient.

If the child died then the donated tissue could only be incinerated or used for research.

Prof Antonio Pellicer, the president IVI, said: "We hope that it [the donation] will help to deliver this important service to young people with cancer.

"Alongside this, our Foundation will work with the University of Oxford on the basic science around the return of fertility to young people who undergo sterilising treatment for their cancer."

The university will be investigating the science of fertility preservation - including how to ensure that any returned tissue is free from cancer, producing eggs in the laboratory and finding ways to protect such tissue from being damaged by treatment in the first place.

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