New fertility treatment allows cancer patients hope for future pregnancies


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN GUSKY

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on October 11, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 10 at 12:36 AM

ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Doctors have been freezing embryos for decades. Now the technology exists that allows just the woman's eggs to be frozen. That fertility treatment is giving hope to women who have to battle cancer before starting a family.

Six years ago, Brianna Wood of South Austin was 27 years old.

"I was really healthy," she said. "I had just run a marathon."

Wood says she had no family history of breast cancer, but a doctor informed her she had dense breast tissue. When she and her husband decided to start a family, she had a mammogram just to be on the safe side.

"We were stunned with the news," said Wood. "I don't think I can describe what that was like for me and for my family."

The mammogram revealed a golf ball-sized tumor that required chemotherapy.

"I read that fertility would likely be effected and that was sort of equally devastating," said Wood."

That's because the chemotherapeutic agents target hormone-producing cells, and the ovaries produce hormones.

"For women all the eggs we were ever going to have we we are born with," said Lisa Hansard M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with the Texas Fertility Center. We don't get to make new eggs when our illness is over."

While doctors have been freezing embryos (the sperm and eggs together) for decades, it's only been within the last 10 years or so that new technology has allowed them to freeze just the eggs. Wood's oncologist recommended she do just that.

"She had the foresight to envision my life post-cancer," said Wood. "That was really hopeful for me."

Wood's subsequent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery did reduce her fertility to almost nothing.

"It was clear that her opportunity to be pregnant was going to result from those embryos they had frozen in 2007," said Hansard.

Wood, now cancer free for five years, is also 12 weeks pregnant.

"We're kind of shocked that we're pregnant," said Wood. "It's the opposite kind of shock that we experienced five years ago."

Wood says her advice to women in her situation is to talk to your doctors about your options. She says she's learned there are lots of ways to have a family.

"It is emotional," said Wood, holding back tears. "It's been a long journey. We're really grateful to be where we are today."

Hansard says it usually only takes two or three weeks to gather enough eggs from the patient. 

Wood says while she still doesn't know the sex of her baby, ultrasounds have allowed her to see and hear its heart beating.  She and her husband are thrilled.  She says it's the first grandchild for both families.