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New fertility hopes for former cancer patients

UK doctors have developed a way of predicting how long a woman who has been treated with radiation therapy will be fertile, ending uncertainty about the chances of motherhood for many childhood cancer patients.

Dr Tom Kelsey of University of St Andrews and Dr Hamish Wallace of the University of Edinburgh joined radiation oncologist Dr Frank Saran at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, to work out a way of forecasting when a woman will become sterile following radiation treatment to her ovaries.

Radiation therapy which includes the pelvis in young people can cause a premature menopause by destroying the immature eggs present in the ovaries. The researchers have developed a formula that takes into account the number of immature eggs and the dose of radiation received, in order to work out a window of opportunity at which age a woman could expect to conceive.

Dr Wallace, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and a children’s cancer specialist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, said: “Our research has made it possible for doctors to predict when a young woman who has been successfully treated for cancer will develop ovarian failure. This will allow doctors to treat them with hormone replacement therapy and prevent osteoporosis and other disabling symptoms of the menopause.

“This knowledge will also guide patients and doctors to their future window of opportunity to have a baby. For those young women who are at risk of a very early menopause, it is now possible to counsel them of the options currently available to preserve their fertility before their treatment starts.”

Computer scientist Dr Tom Kelsey of the University of St Andrews explained: ” Our evaluation of the Effective Sterilising Dose gives radiotherapists an amount of radiation that will sterilise nearly all patients of a known age. This information can be used either to vary the treatment- so that less radiation is received by the ovary – or possibly commence freezing of ovarian tissue, which is a new technique that potentially enables fertility after serious damage to the ovaries. Our results are exciting and useful, and further data is needed to improve the accuracy of our methods.”

The findings are described in the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology Red Journal today, Friday, 1 July 2005.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

To arrange an interview with Dr Kelsey, please contact: Claire Grainger, Press Office, University of St Andrews Tel: 01334 462530 Email: cg24@st- andrews.ac.uk

Astro Journal contact: Katherine Bennett 001 703 227 0156 Email Katherineb@astro.org

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