Launch of the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project

Merrion Fertility Clinic, in collaboration with the Irish Cancer Society, is proud to announce the launch of the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project, a new ground-breaking initiative aimed at protecting the future fertility of children, adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment.

In Ireland, around 200 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Loss of fertility, while a less visible side-effect of cancer treatment, is known to profoundly impact the long-term quality of life for survivors of childhood cancer.

The Childhood Cancer Fertility Project aims to develop new supports and services to address the current significant gap in care for children with cancer in Ireland and aims to ensure that, where possible, lifesaving treatment for children does not come at the cost of their future dreams of parenthood. Despite an increasing need, Ireland currently lags behind the UK and other European countries in providing fertility services for children, adolescents and young adults who go through cancer. This means that some families are forced to resort to travelling abroad for help, amid the stress of cancer treatment, with others receiving no help at all. The Childhood Cancer Fertility Project looks at life beyond treatment for these groups, ensuring that, where possible, survivors are given the precious opportunity of having their own family in future.

The project will offer supports and services to three main groups:

  • Adolescents and young adults will be offered access to an enhanced fertility preservation service for cancer patients operated by Merrion Fertility Clinic
  • Female survivors of childhood cancers aged 18-24 will be invited to have their fertility needs assessed, and referred for further treatment or investigation where fertility treatments may still be an option
  • Children who have yet to reach adolescence will benefit from the development, over the next 3 years, of ground-breaking fertility preservation methods previously not available in this country

The result of a €420,000 investment from the Irish Cancer Society as part of its commitment to improving the lives of cancer survivors, the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project will bring together top international expertise to deliver a world-class service that caters for a basic yet essential need among our cancer community. The three-year project aims to assist hundreds of childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors entirely free of cost to the user, in what is designed to provide a forerunner for a new national fertility preservation programme for these groups.

The project is supported by the National Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Fertility Preservation Consortium comprising the Irish Cancer Society, Merrion Fertility Clinic, the National Maternity Hospital, and Children’s Health Ireland, with further support provided by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP).

Clinical Director of Merrion Fertility Clinic, Prof Mary Wingfield, is the Clinical Lead for the Project. “

I am absolutely delighted that we have received this funding grant. It will make such a difference to so many children, adolescents and their families.

We have been providing sperm freezing services for adolescent boys since mid-2018 and that has been hugely successful. Freezing eggs for girls is more complex and it will be wonderful to now be able to offer this service.

I am also really excited at the prospect of being able to establish a clinic for young survivors of cancer treatment – an opportunity for them to explore their fertility concerns.

I am so grateful to the Irish Cancer Society for enabling this service. It will in time have to be taken over by the State. But this is a fantastic start.”

What does childhood fertility preservation involve?

Fertility preservation is a type of fertility treatment that involves freezing or ‘cryopreserving’ reproductive cells (ie. eggs and sperm) for use at a later date to try for a pregnancy. For young adults who have gone through puberty, egg freezing and sperm freezing are well established methods of fertility preservation. For children and teenagers who have not yet started puberty, or in other cases where egg or sperm freezing is not an option, freezing gonadal/reproductive organ tissue (ie ovaries and testes) is currently the only alternative.

In particular, ovarian tissue cryopreservation is increasingly used in centres around the world to protect the future fertility of young girls. With this technology, all or part of the ovary (which contains immature eggs) are surgically removed and safely cryopreserved. When the child is older and cancer-free, the ovarian tissue can be transplanted back, typically to her pelvis.

Ovarian tissue cryopreservation programmes for adult women with cancer have been running in a number of large centres globally for at least 15 years, and pregnancy rates are encouraging. Spontaneous conceptions have been recorded and also IVF pregnancies with over 100 births . The use of immature ovarian tissue cryopreserved from children is regarded as more experimental than that in adult women but this service is being increasingly offered to children and adolescents in the UK, Europe, Australia and the US. The first successful such case was reported in the UK in 2016 when a 27 year old woman gave birth, following transplantation of her ovary frozen when she was 9 years of age. This procedure is not currently available in Ireland but it is hoped to develop it over the 3 years of this grant.

If you have an enquiry about this service, please contact the clinic at info@merrionfertility.ie

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