New fertility hope for kids with cancer
February 15, 2012 (WPVI) -- Watching a child battle cancer or any other life-threatening disease can be heart-wrenching for parents.
They may not be focused on anything but survival, but now as more kids are surviving cancer, more doctors are also focusing on what happens after treatment.
Danielle Pollicino was enjoying her junior year of high school when she got a pain in her left forearm.
"It was like excruciating pain," said Danielle.
It came and went, so doctors first chalked it up to growing pains.
A few months later came a devastating diagnosis, cancer in the bone.
"There was a lot of tears, a lot of who knows what is going to happen?" said Danielle's mother Lisa.
"It was like 14 weeks of chemo, I think, and then surgery halfway through it," said Danielle.
One night, just before the chemo started, Lisa Pollicino awoke, startled by a thought.
"I said to my husband, 'my God, what about having kids?'" Lisa said.
Indeed, some treatments for life-threatening diseases like cancer can leave patients infertile.
At first, a parent is just focused on survival. But with nearly 80% of kids now surviving cancer, doctors and parents are looking beyond that.
"Fertility and the prospect of having a family are huge quality of life issues for our patients," said Dr. Jill Ginsberg.
Dr. Jill Ginsberg heads up a unique program at the Children's Hospital that is dedicated to improving the chances young patients have to one day have children of their own.
For those who have passed puberty, sperm or eggs can be frozen.
In Danielle's case, she and her doctors opted to take a piece of her ovary, which contains eggs, to be frozen.
In the future, the tissue can be re-implanted.
It is a technique already working in adult women who have battled cancer.
"There has been about 15 pregnancies worldwide using frozen ovarian tissue," says Dr. Ginsberg.
For young boys like 13-year-old Bobby Murphy, who battled aplastic anemia last year, a solution is also in the works in the laboratory of Dr. Ralph Brinster at the Penn Vet School.
Starting with mice, he developed a way to take reproductive stem cells from a fertile male, and use them to make an infertile male fertile again.
"It was so simple, I was surprised no one did it before," says Dr. Ralph Brinster.
He says it also works in larger animals, so he's now working with Children's Hospital to apply the process to humans.
"If it works in all other species that you test it in, and it is such a simple phenomena, so there's no reason why it won't work in humans," Dr. Brinster.
Bobby and his dad aren't sure they will need Dr. Brinster's research when it comes time for him to start a family, but they think of it like a safety net under a high wire.
"You really don't want to fall off that high wire, but if you do, you know that there's a net down there you're going to fall into," Larry Murphy said.
Right now, it is believed these methods will work to preserve fertility; however it will be several years before there is proof.
For people being treated at other centers, there are steps that can be taken to shield reproductive organs from harm.
Parents should ask about these steps before treatment for their child starts.
cancer, children, special reports, ali gorman, r.n.
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