What is fertility sparing? How it gives ovarian cancer patients a chance at motherhood

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Although ovarian cancer is rare in women under 40, it does occur. And the diagnosis can derail a woman's desire for children.

But there is an option for keeping dreams of motherhood intact.

Jen Nemcik and her husband got a shock, just as they started fertility treatment.
"On an ultrasound at my first appointment, I had a really big cyst about the size of a softball," she said.

Nemcik, a nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center, went straight to surgical oncologist Christina Chu, who removed the cyst and sent it for testing.

"It came back as a borderline ovarian tumor, which was explained to me is it's not cancer, but it's also not normal cells. It's kind of in the middle," she said.

Dr. Chu said the standard treatment for ovarian cancer is a complete hysterectomy, removing the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. But when tumors aren't invasive, are confined to one ovary, it's a Stage One cancer, and if the woman wants to have children there may be an alternative.

"Certain types of patients may be safely treated with surgery that just removes the affected tube and ovary," she said.

Dr. Chu said years of studies show "fertility sparing" works while keeping cancer at bay.

"These tumors are often well-treated just by surgical removal and don't need chemotherapy," she said.
And the surgery is laparoscopic, minimally invasive.

After Nemcik's surgery, she resumed fertility treatments, and in May 2020, had a daughter.

"She's a great baby. She sleeps well, has good temperaments. Awesome. She's so happy. We're really fortunate considering everything that it took to get here," she said.

Nemcik urges any younger adult facing cancer to ask about fertility sparing options.

"It's a really important question for you to ask, if you're a man or a woman, and you know that you want to have children in the future," she said.

Dr. Chu agrees, take time for a second opinion. She adds that fertility sparing surgery is also possible for cervical cancer removing the cervix, while keeping other reproductive organs intact.
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