Clinicians in Southampton are performing a new procedure which can help to preserve fertility in women with newly-diagnosed cancer.
It is known as ovarian tissue cryopreservation and involves removing and freezing healthy ovarian tissue containing eggs before the start of radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Both therapies can permanently damage the reproductive organs or cause premature menopause.
Once a patient has completed their course of treatment and is either in remission or of child-bearing age, the ovarian tissue strips are thawed.
They are then re-implanted into the patient to allow the return of ovarian function and fertility and help reduce premature menopause.
Patients can then try to conceive naturally or the eggs can be retrieved and fertilised in vitro with the embryo implanted in the uterus.
In partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), Complete Fertility Centre at the Princess Anne Hospital, which is part of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS), is only the second centre in England to offer the service.
The procedure, which is available to NHS patients on a case-by-case basis, was introduced at Complete Fertility Centre in collaboration with Dr Kirsten Schmidt, whose team pioneered the technique at the University Hospital of Copenhagen.
Professor Nick Macklon, medical director of Complete Fertility Centre and a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at UHS, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer patients access to this leading-edge procedure.
“It is distressing for cancer patients to learn that they may become infertile as a result of their cancer treatment and not all girls or women can benefit from the freezing of embryos and eggs which are already offered.
"This technique opens up the possibility to preserve fertility for many more women and for girls too."
Dr Mili Saran, a consultant gynaecologist and clinical lead for fertility preservation at UHS, added: “We hope that our service will be the start of a wider rollout of ovarian tissue fertility preservation within the NHS so many more patients can benefit.
“The service was a vision of Professor Macklon and his persistent efforts, supported by NHSBT and many other partners, have made it a reality.”
NHSBT, a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority, is responsible for freezing and storing the healthy ovarian tissue at its specialist facility in Southampton.
Dr Claire Wiggins, head of stem cell immunotherapies at NHSBT Southampton, said: “We’re delighted to be part of this important service, offering cancer patients a chance to preserve their fertility.
“NHSBT is an essential part of the NHS and we take pride in saving and improving lives. We want to ensure as many patients as possible get the specialist life-saving or life-enhancing treatment that they need from the NHS.”
The service has received additional funding via a grant from the Steve Mills Fund, a charity set up by the former Saints player and his wife Jo Hill before his death from leukaemia in 1988 at the age of 33.
The charity, which is part of the Wessex Medical Trust, funded the Steve Mills Stem Cell Laboratory, which opened at Royal South Hants Hospital in 1989 and moved to its current NHSBT facility at Southampton General Hospital in 2004.
Posted on Wednesday 22 June 2016