Some women have enough time to go through a cycle of egg extraction before they start breast cancer treatment. But in rare cases, a woman may have to start breast cancer treatment immediately. In these cases, freezing ovarian tissue, or ovarian tissue cryopreservation, may be an option.
Freezing ovarian tissue is experimental — the first baby born using the procedure was in 2004. Your ovary or ovaries are removed and strips of them containing unripe eggs are frozen. When you are ready to try to get pregnant after cancer treatment is finished, the strips of ovarian tissue are thawed and reimplanted back into your body.
Your ovarian tissue can be transplanted into your pelvis, but sometimes the ovarian tissue doesn't grow after being transplanted because it doesn't get enough blood.
So doctors have developed a technique to transplant stored ovarian tissue to another part of your body, outside the pelvis. Doctors have transplanted ovarian tissue to the arm, forearm, abdominal wall, and the area just above the pubic bone. These locations have many blood vessels and the transplanted ovarian tissue may be more likely to grow and produce ripening eggs.
If your stored ovarian tissue is transplanted someplace other than your pelvis, the eggs will have to be harvested, fertilized in the lab and then implanted in your uterus.
You may hear about ovarian tissue being transplanted directly from the pelvis to the arm without being frozen. This unlikely to be an option for women being treated for breast cancer because moving the ovaries into the arm wouldn't protect them from chemotherapy — they would still be affected. This direct transplant is more likely to be an option for women being treated for colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, or Hodgkin's disease with radiation directly to the pelvic area.
Because ovarian freezing and transplantation are experimental, it's hard to estimate how much the procedures cost. If you're concerned about cost no matter the price, you may want to ask your doctor if you qualify for a clinical trial. If you're accepted into the trial, you may pay very little or nothing for the procedure.
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