Cancer Patient Froze Ovaries

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 6, 2003, 4:14 PM

March 7 -- When she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26, Rebecca Pryce also learned she would probably be unable to have children. So she took a radical step to try to preserve her fertility: She had her ovaries removed and cryogenically frozen.

Three years ago, Pryce was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, a severe form of cancer that affects the immune system. Doctors in Omaha, Neb., told her to begin aggressive treatment as soon as possible. They said she would need months of chemotherapy and radiation followed by a bone-marrow transplant.

But as is the case for many other female cancer patients, there was a double whammy with the diagnosis. In addition to fighting the cancer, Pryce had to cope with the knowledge she would likely have to give up her plans to give birth to a child someday.

"When I got the news I had cancer, I also found out it was worse than anyone thought and the treatment more severe than I had imagined," Pryce, now 29, told ABCNEWS Good Morning America. "I initially thought, 'After I get through it all, I can get my life back to normal.' But then when I was told I probably would not be able to have children, that hope disappeared."

The drugs that kill cancer cells can also destroy a woman's eggs. Up to 80 percent of women and 90 percent of men who are in their reproductive years become sterile after going through chemotherapy, radiation or surgery on reproductive parts of the body.

To the Freezer

Pryce's siblings, who are both doctors, told her about Dr. Kutluk Oktay, a reproductive medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital who had pioneered an experimental ovary-freezing procedure.

The idea is to remove their ovaries and cryogenically freeze them until a woman is ready to become pregnant. If the uterus is healthy, the fertilized embryos may be implanted in the patient's womb so she may carry the fetus. If the uterus is not sound, a woman could choose to have a surrogate carry the fetus.

Oktay has removed and frozen the ovaries of about 100 women. So far, two women have had their once-frozen ovarian tissue implanted, but neither has become pregnant thus far. Only one of the two resumed menstruation, and though doctors were able to retrieve a viable egg, the fertilization was not successful, Oktay said.