New treatment for ovarian cancer patients

December 17, 2009 3:23:54 PM PST
When a young woman hears the words "You have cancer," she probably can't think beyond the fight for survival. But now, some women are taking steps to protect their hormones, and possibly their future fertility from chemo. An ovarian tissue transplant helped one young cancer survivor regain her womanhood.Joseph Criscuolo is getting ready for his sixth birthday. His mom, Jennifer, is just grateful to be around for the party.

"I was first diagnosed 15 weeks after my child was born," Jennifer said.

She had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and endured seven rounds of chemo. Two years later, the cancer came back

"It was totally unbelievable," Criscuolo said.

Another round of rigorous treatment would force the 38-year-old into post-menopause. Jennifer decided to have one of her ovaries removed -- and frozen.

"Whether you want kids or you don't want kids, when you get better, you want your hormones back in place," she explained.

After she went into remission, Jennifer met Dr. Tamer Yalcinkaya of Wake Forest University. He performed a minimally invasive surgery to re-implant her ovarian tissue. Doctors sewed eight frozen pieces onto Jennifer's remaining ovary. It created a "pocket" for new eggs to grow.

"Even small pieces of ovary can produce follicles and can release eggs," Dr. Yalcinkaya, director of Wake Forest's Center for Reproductive Medicine, said.

Six months after surgery, Jennifer's body acted like it had before the cancer -- no menopause, no hormone replacements and normal monthly cycles.

"Most women would say, 'Why would you want that?'" Jennifer said. "But it's nice to have my hormones functioning again."

Doctors say there's a chance Jennifer could get pregnant. She's hopeful, but is satisfied with feeling like herself again.

"It's my right to go through all the different stages of womanhood, so I felt like I deserved that," she said.

Looking forward to the future, and enjoying the journey.

Only two dozen of these procedures have been performed in the world, resulting in five births. Doctors don't know how long after the transplant the ovaries will function. Doctors say women with certain cancers such as leukemia are not good candidates because there's a risk of restarting the disease after the transplant.


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