Research News: Fertility Preservation Outcome Study in Cancer Patients

September 21, 2022Bríd Ní Dhonnabháin BSc (hons), MSc
Recent research conducted by some of our Hertility Team, led by one of our co-founders Dr Natalie Getreu, has been published in the Fertility and Sterility Journal.

Fertility can be affected by cancer and cancer treatment to such an extent that women may have reduced family planning options once they’ve completed their treatment. Although, records of the success of fertility preservation methods in cancer patients are not routinely collected by hospitals, fertility clinics or researchers.

Instead, when it comes to egg and embryo freezing, clinicians routinely use success rates from patients that have undergone fertility preservation for social reasons as opposed to medical reasons.

Therefore, our research team aimed to look into pregnancy outcomes in cancer survivors who had used their frozen tissues to provide more up-to-date and relevant information for these patients.

The results revealed that between fertility preservation methods: egg, embryo or ovarian tissue freezing, there was no significant difference between these methods for women to have live births after pregnancies.

At Hertility we are so proud to not only offer new and different care pathways for women but also to be home to so many amazing researchers. So we thought in this article we would take you through the research, and the findings and explain them to you. After all – knowledge is power!

First up, let’s recap on fertility preservation….

We’ve already published an article that covers all the different types of fertility preservation for people with ovaries but here is a brief sum up:

There are both medical and social reasons to undergo fertility preservation. 

  • Medical fertility preservation means preserving parts of your fertility in people who might lose their ability to reproduce due to upcoming medical treatment, for example, cancer patients about to undergo chemotherapy/radiotherapy or people undergoing gender reassignment surgery, or for some who have an autoimmune condition that want to protect their fertility.
  • Whereas, social fertility preservation is when you are opting to freeze your eggs because of social and age-related factors.

There are several different fertility preservation methods, some of which include:

  • Egg freezing – This is what it says on the tin: collecting your egg cells and putting them on ice for later use.
  • Embryo freezing – This process involves fertilising your collected egg with IVF using either donor’s or your partner’s sperm and then the resulting embryo is frozen until you are ready to use it.
  • Ovarian tissue cryopreservation – This method is created mostly for younger patients who have not yet gone through puberty and are therefore not able to fully mature their egg cells. Tissue containing immature eggs is cut from their ovaries and is preserved in a tissue bank until the tissue can be re-implanted and used at a later stage, however, this is not routinely used for the general population.

There are more fertility preservation options but in this study, researchers only included cancer patients who had undergone oocyte, embryo or ovarian tissue cryopreservation (freezing)

What did this study do?

Researchers followed cancer patients that had both fertility preservation and then had fertility-damaging cancer treatment (gonadotoxic therapy) who were now looking to start a family using their cryopreserved oocyte, embryo or ovarian tissue.

The main outcomes this research looked at were if there were clinical pregnancies (clinical signs of the foetus can be either seen or heard), miscarriages (pregnancy loss) and live birth (completed pregnancies that result in a live birth).

What were the results?

This study found that between fertility preservation methods: egg, embryo or ovarian tissue freezing, there was no significant difference between these methods for women to have live births after pregnancies. (In science it’s all about whether a difference is significant or not!). 

Also high clinical pregnancy rates and live birth rates were observed in all techniques. They also found that freezing ovarian tissue results in significantly less miscarriages than embryo freezing, which is interesting and is something to further investigate!

What do these results mean?

Like anything in science, there are limitations in the study and this research does report some limitations since it was an early analysis.

However, this is a really important and interesting starting point in this area of research and for cancer-related fertility preservation.
Researchers hope that this study helps to establish better reporting of outcomes in cancer patients and will encourage clinicians to use appropriate statistics and information to counsel women who find themselves facing a cancer diagnosis on their chances of biological motherhood.

If you fancy having a read of the article yourself, have a look here!

At Hertility, we are dedicated to revolutionising women’s healthcare, whether that be through improving care pathways, helping women receive answers about their bodies through our at-home tests or contributing to the Women’s Health research. It’s all part of our mission for a #ReproductiveRevolution.

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