Surge in cancer patients using egg and sperm banks
GROWING numbers of cancer patients are using egg and sperm banks to boost their chances of having children following treatment.
Cancer therapy can damage the patient's chances of having children when they recover -- but technology enables female eggs and male sperm to be frozen and later thawed for use in fertility treatment.
The largest fertility clinic in the country at Dublin's Rotunda Hospital recorded a 23pc rise in women referred by cancer specialists last year for the procedure.
The clinic was attended by 173 male cancer patients and 157 of these had sperm frozen for future use. Both services are state-funded.
The figures, from the hospital's Human Assisted Reproduction Ireland (HARI) clinic, reveal how a record 30 women who were deemed suitable last year had their eggs frozen.
Dr Edgar Mocanu, clinic obstetrician and gynaecologist, said the increase in women availing of the service is linked to a growing awareness that they can freeze eggs prior to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
"Women have to be assessed for the procedure and and we rely on the oncologist saying it should go ahead," he said.
Dr Mocanu said some women would not have time to undergo the procedure before cancer therapy -- but they wanted to explore what happens after the treatment. In some cases, a woman is not deemed suitable because her cancer may be affected by the stimulation used for the egg production.
The clinic's success rate for women freezing eggs is difficult to judge because the service has only been available since 2003. A woman would need the all-clear from her cancer specialist for five years before trying to use the eggs.
International figures show only around 2-3pc of women are later successful in getting pregnant -- but that success rate related to older 'slow freeze' technology. The HARI clinic is now using techniques that speed up the process, improving the chances of the woman using the eggs to fall pregnant.
Dr Mocanu added that freezing eggs was mainly done by cancer patients and there had not been any noticeable trend among healthy women for banking their eggs for later years.
Meanwhile, the chances of men who preserve sperm becoming fathers are better -- with a proven success of around 40pc to 60pc. Men in their 50s, who are in new relationships and develop cancer, are among those who are freezing their sperm.
Last year the average age of those attending the clinic for all treatments was 35.6 years for women and 37.6 for men.
"The success rate is around one-third but it is related to the female age and the cause of infertility," said Dr Mocanu.
"For women who are younger than 35 it could go higher. For women over 40, it is around one in 10 if not even less."