New procedure helps teen cancer patients preserve their fertility.

By: Staff Email
By: Staff Email

From studying chemistry to winning homecoming queen, life for straight-a student Julianne Mai was all about school -- until a few weeks ago.

"I didn't think that someone like me could have cancer," she says.

Now Julianne's on her second round of chemo. Not only is she fighting cancer, she also had to make a choice about her future as a parent. "Being a 17-year-old, babies aren't exactly what I have in mind all the time. It's just school and my boyfriend," she laughs.

It's a decision 130,000 newly-diagnosed cancer patients of reproductive age must make every year. Dr. Steven Lindheim heads up the U.C. Center for Reproductive Health, one of 50 national oncofertility sites addressing the problem. He's excited about what the future may hold for his patients -- or better yet, what his patients may hold in the future. "What we can provide for them is the ability after they've done their therapy to still have a family."

Since Julianne needed chemo right away, she opted to have one of her ovaries removed and frozen. Dr. Lindheim explains how that gives Julianne the future opportunity to have her ovary transplanted elsewhere in her body. "To date, ovaries have been transplanted either back in the forearm or chest wall." That's because of the rich blood supply found there. After a successful transplant, the functioning ovary allows in-vitro fertilization to take place.

The technique is still experimental and has only resulted in 18 pregnancies worldwide. And Julianne knows the odds. "It's a new process. I don't know if it's going to work, but it's for ten years from now."

For now, she's taking her cancer one day at a time. "Trying to get my life back," she adds.

In many cases fertility preservation options are not covered by insurance. The average cost of ovarian tissue freezing is 12-thousand dollars. Dr. Lindheim also works with Livestrong's Sharing Hope and says the foundation can help patients arrange for discounted services and donated medications.

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