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Sunday Herald Sun - - News - BRIGID O’CON­NELL

CAN­CER pa­tients as young as one are among a grow­ing num­ber un­der­go­ing fer­til­ity treat­ment to fu­ture-proof their chance of hav­ing chil­dren.

About 300 Vic­to­rian pa­tients — half of these chil­dren or teenagers — seek help each year to pre­serve their fer­til­ity af­ter a can­cer di­ag­no­sis.

Each year in Vic­to­ria about 20 to 30 young girls have ovar­ian tis­sue re­moved and frozen be­fore start­ing can­cer treat­ment.

Mel­bourne IVF and Royal Women’s Hos­pi­tal head of fer­til­ity preser­va­tion As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Kate Stern said egg and ovar­ian tis­sue freez­ing were no longer “ex­per­i­men­tal” treat­ments.

She said surgery to freeze ovar­ian tis­sue had been per­formed in chil­dren as young as 12 months old.

“Of the pa­tients we see, over 80 per cent will chose to do some­thing. The dis­cus­sion about fer­til­ity preser­va­tion is now con­sid­ered a manda­tory part of can­cer treat­ment,” Prof Stern said.

World­wide, only two chil­dren have been born us­ing im­ma­ture eggs frozen be­fore pu­berty.

“We know that when you graft the tis­sue from a young girl, the eggs ma­ture nor­mally, but be­cause we’ve only been tak­ing it for a few years we haven’t had cause to put it back yet,” Prof Stern said.

But there is still some way to go be­fore the fer­til­ity of boys af­ter can­cer can be pro­tected.

An ex­per­i­men­tal pro­ce­dure un­der­gone at the Royal Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, the only Aus­tralian cen­tre where it is avail­able, treats about 30 boys a year.

It aims to one day grow im­ma­ture sperm to ma­tu­rity when they are ca­pa­ble of fer­til­is­ing an egg; a feat only so far achieved in an­i­mals.

Ten years ago Nicole Pa­ter­son, at age 21, was the youngest Vic­to­rian to be di­ag­nosed with cer­vi­cal can­cer.

“I re­mem­ber when they told me I couldn’t carry my own baby … was the worst day of my life,” Ms Pa­ter­son said.

“The can­cer didn’t re­ally bother me, be­cause I knew I had a chance to fight it. But with kids, that was taken away from me straight away.”

Ms Pa­ter­son froze eggs, em­bryos and ovar­ian tis­sue be­fore start­ing chemo, ra­di­a­tion and hav­ing surgery to re­move her cervix and lymph nodes.

Now can­cer free, she hopes the new year will bring her and fi­ance Mark Bau­mann the op­por­tu­nity to start their own fam­ily through a sur­ro­gate.

“We’re feel­ing pos­i­tive about it. Most peo­ple get to have their own ba­bies, we just want the same chance as ev­ery­one else,” she said. “We feel lucky that we’ve got op­tions.”

Corinne Ge­bert, 35, had a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy af­ter find­ing she car­ried the BRCA mu­ta­tion, putting her at high risk of ovar­ian and breast can­cer. She is now pre­par­ing to freeze her eggs.

“It takes come pres­sure off me, be­cause I have to start look­ing at my ovar­ian can­cer risk in five years,” she said. “I wish it could be dif­fer­ent and for it to be nat­u­ral, but you don’t know what’s around the cor­ner. Knowl­edge is power.”

There are other po­ten­tial op­tions on the hori­zon. Prof Stern’s lab­o­ra­tory is work­ing with Dan­ish col­leagues to grow an “ar­ti­fi­cial ovary”.

WHEN Sasha Milinkovic was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer at only 26, hav­ing chil­dren wasn’t on her mind.But sud­denly, as well as deal­ing with her can­cer, she was asked to con­sider her plans for a fam­ily.“I knew I wanted chil­dren in the fu­ture, but it wasn’t on my radar,” Ms Milinkovic said. “The thought of do­ing IVF, then do­ing chemo, ra­di­a­tion and surgery — that was just way too much to deal with.”In­stead, she opted for a fer­til­ity preser­va­tion treat­ment that tem­po­rar­ily shuts down the re­pro­duc­tive or­gans dur­ing chemo.Now with part­ner Dan Finch by her side she is mother to son Mor­ris, born af­ter five cy­cles of IVF, and six­month-old daugh­ter Goldie, con­ceived nat­u­rally.“I want peo­ple to know there is light at the end of the tun­nel,” she said. Nicole Pa­ter­son, Corinne Ge­bert and Sasha Milinkovic with her chil­dren Mor­ris, 3, and Goldie, 6 months. Pic­ture: JAY TOWN

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