A new technique may help newly diagnosed cancer patients preserve their eggs, and perhaps their fertility, before chemotherapy, German researchers said on Monday, Reuters reported.
Currently, many women collect and freeze some of their eggs to try to have children after their cancer treatment, which can make them infertile. The process can take up to six weeks.
But if a cancer diagnosis comes at the start of the menstrual cycle, many women are unable to delay chemotherapy and preserve their eggs, Michael Von Wolf told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
"Depending on what phase of her menstrual cycle is in when she receives a cancer diagnoses, it can take between two and six weeks to start ovarian stimulation and collect (eggs)," said Von Wolff, a researcher at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
"Two weeks is an acceptable amount of time in many diseases to wait before starting a cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, but three to six weeks is far too long."
In their study of 40 women, the researchers wanted to see if they could stop the menstrual cycle during what is known as the luteal phase and stimulate a woman's follicles as if it were earlier in the cycle.
The luteal phase is the part of the menstrual cycle from ovulation to the start of the next menstruation.
The researchers gave women a drug known as a GnRH-antagonist that blocked production of a hormone key to the luteal phase and then administered a standard follicle stimulation hormone.
Traditionally, fertility experts had only given the follicle-stimulating drug at the beginning of a woman's cycle but now fertility doctors can administer them later on if needed, Von Wolff said.
"It is not new drugs," Von Wolf said. "Everybody can do it."
The technique stimulated the ovaries in about 12 days and produced 10 eggs, compared to just over 10 days and 13 eggs for women given the drugs earlier in their cycle, Wolff said. About the same percentage of eggs were viable in both groups.
Women across several centers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland now have access to the technique and he hopes that even more countries adopt it when doctors learn about it.
"I am desperately working to try to have everybody who does fertility to know about it," he told reporters.