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New Fertility Treatment Option Now Available for Cancer Patients

Montefiore's Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Health One of Few Sites in NY-Metro Area to Test this Experimental Procedure

HARTSDALE, NY (Aug. 12, 2009) -- Cancer patients who want to start a family in the future may now have a new option. Montefiore's Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Health is one of the few programs in the New York metropolitan area and one of approximately 25 sites across the country to offer a new experimental treatment option to preserve fertility for female patients undergoing cancer treatment. Offered in collaboration with The Oncofertility Consortium at Northwestern University, this research procedure, called Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation, removes one ovary and freezes the ovarian tissue before the woman begins undergoing chemotherapy. Twenty percent of the tissue is used for research and 80 percent will be held for the patient for use when she is ready to have a baby.

"We are pleased to now offer this new option for cancer patients who may want to conceive at a future time," said Edward Illions, MD, who is the lead physician for the research study.

This procedure, which is currently available for women of childbearing age from 18-42, is being offered as a possible choice for those who have to begin chemotherapy immediately because of the nature of their cancer diagnosis. It involves removing a section of ovarian tissue containing eggs, freezing them and then thawing them at a later date. Additional research will concentrate on techniques to isolate and grow immature follicles in the lab setting (called in vitro follicle maturation). Once matured, the eggs within these follicles can be fertilized to create embryos as in traditional In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

This procedure could be an alternative to IVF, freezing embryos and freezing eggs, processes that require as much as three to six weeks to be effective.

Successfully freezing and thawing ovarian tissue and maturing eggs within the laboratory  is in the research stages as another method of fertility preservation for women diagnosed with cancer. First, the surgical removal of ovarian tissue would not cause a delay in cancer treatment for more than one or two days. Also, the procedure would not require hormone treatment, which is not appropriate for girls who have not yet undergone puberty. In fact, because a woman is born with her lifetime supply of eggs, girls as young as one year of age could eventually be eligible for this procedure.

Finally, since this procedure would not require immediate fertilization of an egg, it allows women who do not have a partner or access to donor sperm more control over their decision to have children.

At Montefiore's Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Health, a complete range of advanced treatment options for men and women is available, which includes Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE), Blastocyst transfer, Cryopreservation, Assisted hatching, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PDG) and sperm donors. In 1986, the physicians at Montefiore were among the first in New York to establish a donor egg program. The center includes on-site operating suites, treatment and recovery rooms, and a full-service laboratory.  The laboratory is open seven days a week for both andrology (for semen analysis and sperm preparation) and endocrinology (for analysis of hormones).

The Oncofertility Consortium is a nationwide initiative that was developed by Teresa Woodruff, MD to address the complex health care and quality-of-life issues that young cancer patients face. Led by Northwestern University researchers, the group consists of a network of doctors, scientists, and scholars dedicated to the advancement of technologies that will provide improved fertility preservation options for people diagnosed with cancer (and other serious diseases) who must undergo treatments that threaten their fertility.

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