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New Cancer Therapy May Pose Less Risk to Female Fertility

a blog by Kim Griffiths, March 25, 2013

Many women diagnosed with cancer are able to overcome the disease due to advances in cancer therapy. However, those undergoing chemotherapy often suffer compromised fertility as the treatment impacts ovarian reserve and uterine receptivity to embryo implantation. One of the most common types of cancer found in women of reproductive age is leukemia.

A study published in the March 20, 2013 issue of PLOS ONE discovered that arsenic trioxide, an FDA approved cancer therapy, can aggressively treat cancer cells while posing less of a risk to the patient’s fertility. Typically, the effect of chemotherapy radiation destroys egg cells in the woman’s ovaries which significantly impedes her ability to conceive using her own eggs after fertility treatment. There are new collaborations between cancer centers and fertility clinics across the United States that aim to educated cancer patients on the effects of cancer treatment on their fertility, encourage egg freezing for fertility preservation, and provide free or discounted fertility preservation services to allow them to do so.

This new cancer treatment technique involves nanoscale encapsulation of arsenic trioxide. Essentially, the arsenic trioxide is disguised as a lipid and polymer agent that tricks the cancer into consuming the drug (similar to when your mother crushed up medicine into applesauce when you were sick as a kid).

Within a 48-hour time frame, the lipid dissolves and the small crystals of arsenic treatment are released. The study found this formulation had a stronger effect on leukemia compared to the non-encapsulated version of the drug, and had less of an effect on fertility.

The researchers also developed a rapid toxicity test in this trial, as the lipid-encapsulated arsenic is able to pass into the blood vessels which feed a tumor and release the arsenic without exposing reproductive tissue to the drug. Tumors were found to be more acidic than healthy tissue, which aided in the appropriate delivery and release of the arsenic. This study was the first of its kind to test a cancer drug while still in the testing phase for its effect on fertility.

Existing tests for the effects of cancer therapy on ovarian reserve are time consuming and costly. This new, rapid technique will help oncologists and fertility doctors to collaborate on a treatment that poses fewer risks with greater benefits to the patient.

Recent studies show that oncologists are not addressing fertility as often as they should. It is important to increase awareness of fertility preservation for cancer patients among oncologists. By providing more treatment options, it will be presumably easier for oncologists to educate their patients and to help them make informed decisions about various cancer treatments and the future of their fertility.

Check out these fertility preservation articles on

What Cancer Patients Should Know About Fertility
Life after Cancer and Preserving Fertility for the Future
Women with Cancer Want to Know Options for Fertility Preservation
Fertility Risks Being Discussed with Young Cancer Patients

Looking to connect with other women dealing with cancer and infertility? Visit the forum, Cancer and Infertility. You can also chat with Kim on as KimAtFertilityAuthority.

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