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Life Lessons: Kids with cancer-preserving fertility

Published On: Jan 17 2014 04:00:00 AM CST

Life Lessons: Kids with cancer-preserving fertility

Today, Christina Montana is just like any 16-year-old. But two years ago, she got some devastating news from her doctor.

"He just straight out told me, you have something called lymphoma," explains Montana.

Montana had chemo, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. But first she had to think about something most girls her age never even consider: her fertility.

"It's like one of those, well, I might want babies in the future," she said.

"Many of the cancer treatments that we give, while lifesaving, is also toxic to the finite number of eggs that each person has," says Irene Su, MD, assistant professor of reproductive medicine at UC-San Diego Health System.

Dr. Su says there are options for preserving fertility.

For girls who've reached puberty, it's freezing eggs or embryos. For younger patients, it's freezing ovarian tissue.

"We've had, really, as young as three or four, umm, that their parents want to talk about what is the likelihood that their kids will be able to become biologic parents later," Dr. Su said.

About 80 percent of kids with cancer survive. But only 30 to 40 percent receive counseling on fertility options when they're diagnosed, and fewer than 10 percent undergo a fertility preservation procedure.

Christina decided to freeze her eggs, but her doctor never mentioned the option.

She's now trying to get a law passed that requires physicians to tell young patients about fertility procedures.

"Not finding out until they just can't anymore just doesn't seem fair at all," Montana said.

Dr. Su said finances are a very big issue for young patients.

More than half of the patients she sees can't afford the fertility-preserving procedures which can cost upwards of $10,000.

Most insurance don't cover them, and keeping the eggs frozen can run up to $50  a month. Programs like Fertile Hope and Life L often provide financial assistance and free fertility medications.