The Fertility Preservation Program, launched in 2010, offers groundbreaking options — and hope — for people with cancer of all ages. The program is part of the UPMC Magee Center for Reproduction and Transplantation.
Dylan Hanlon was just 9 when his mother took steps to preserve his fertility. The youngster was having chemotherapy in Florida for a rare childhood cancer.
When Christine learned her son's treatment would likely destroy his chances at future fatherhood, she desperately began searching for options. Her search led her to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Researchers and doctors were launching a program aimed at preserving fertility in people of all ages with cancer and other serious illnesses.
In an outpatient procedure, Dylan became one of the first boys to have testicular tissue removed and frozen. The hope is that one day doctors will transplant the cells back so he can make his own sperm.
“For younger patients like Dylan, we're banking on future technology, but it's just around the corner," says Kyle Orwig, PhD.
Dr. Orwig is director of the UPMC Magee Center for Reproduction and Transplantation.
Doctors diagnose more than 80,000 young adults, teens, and children with cancer each year. While cancer treatments have evolved to cause fewer harmful side effects, radiation and chemo can still damage fertility.
“Children have an excellent chance of surviving cancer. They have their entire reproductive lives in front of them. Freezing tissue offers them the potential of having children of their own someday," Dr. Orwig says.
The Center's Fertility Preservation Program is one of the nation's most complete in helping preserve and restore fertility after cancer treatment.
One goal is to inform people and their doctors about the long-term reproductive impact of cancer treatments and options for preserving fertility.
“It's a discussion that needs to happen before toxic therapies begin and fertility is irreversibly destroyed," says Dr. Orwig.
Preserving fertility is a “quality of life issue" for people, says Dr. Orwig.
“It's crucial to get that information out there and explain what it means," he says. “People of all ages who battle cancer go on to lead long fruitful lives after treatment. For many, that means starting or growing a family."
The program offers hope and options through proven and experimental fertility preservation options including freezing and banking:
Dr. Orwig leads studies on the freezing of testicular and ovarian tissue removed in an outpatient procedure such as Dylan's. Children as young as a year old can have this procedure.
“We're saving tissue now so that option will be there when these children become adults. We can transplant the tissue if they're having trouble having kids of their own the old-fashioned way," says Dr. Orwig.
The technology for preserving fertility is here. The real challenge is increasing awareness so people can take advantage of it before it's too late.
Ideally, people should have fertility preservation procedures before cancer treatment starts.
For Dylan, his prognosis is good, and he talks of having his own kids one day.
“There's a small window of opportunity for these children and their parents to make a very important decision," says his mother, Christine.
“It's essential that doctors provide all the options to them right up front — including experimental ones. And then let patients and their families decide what they want to do," she says.
Despite the chemo treatments Dylan had before entering the program, doctors found spermatogonial stem cells in his tissue. Only time will tell if he'll be able to have children if he chooses.
In the meantime, Christine feels she's done all she can for Dylan.
“I did it for the love of my son. I wanted him to have as normal a life as possible after cancer. And that included the chance to decide about having children in the future."
Our program — part of UPMC Magee's Center for Reproduction and Transplantation — offers a range of fertility treatments for adults, teens, and kids.
We take a team approach to care, working with reproductive medicine and cancer experts at:
You or your doctor can request an appointment for fertility care at the UPMC Magee Center for Reproduction and Transplantation by: