Ovarian grafting: the new treatment helping cancer survivors have children – ABC News

Imagine being 13 and told you have bone cancer. Worse still, doctors tell you that the treatment for that cancer could mean you never have children naturally.

That's what happened to Amelia Divirgilio.

In 2012, her main concern was basketball. She was obsessed with it. In fact, she was reffing a game the day her life took a sudden turn.

"A family friend came up to me and she said 'have you got that lump on your neck checked out?' I was like, what lump?"

"I went to the mirror and the size of an apple or a golf ball was just bulging out of my neck," Amelia told Hack.

Amelia's mum, Jo, said the lump came up in just hours.

The lump wasn't there in the morning when I braided her hair.

"We thought she might have had glandular fever or something. As we found out, it was something pretty nasty," Jo said.

Amelia was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer that was growing off the vertebrae in her neck.

That diagnosis shocked Amelia and her family.

"Anyone who's had a diagnosis of cancer, you know there's good endings, but you never think of the good endings initially. It's how bad it can be and where you can end up," Jo said.

To treat the bone cancer, Amelia had 14 sessions of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of radiation therapy.

Amelia Divirgilio was diagnosed with an aggressive type of bone cancer when she was 13.

Before she started treatment, doctors warned her that it came with other risks she might not have considered.

"[They said that] potential side effects of chemotherapy is infertility. I didn't even think twice, I was like, whatever," Amelia said.

At 13, Amelia wasn't too concerned about having babies.

But her parents urged her to consider her options.

One of those options was a new treatment called ovarian tissue harvesting or grafting.

"That's where little pieces of ovarian tissue have been collected via surgery and put in a freezer, and then that tissue is put back into the body," Dr Yasmin Jayasinghe from the Royal Children's Hospital and the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne, told Hack.

She explained that the ovarian tissue doctors collect can be put back anywhere in the body.

The hope is that tissue will get a blood supply and start to get hormones from the brain, and that it will activate and produce its own hormones.

If the ovarian tissue is put back in the ovaries, then it's possible pregnancy can happen naturally. If the tissue is put elsewhere in the body, then doctors collect the eggs using IVF.

Amelia Divirgilio and her mum, Jo, taking part in a cancer fundraising run.

After talking it through with her doctors and her parents, Amelia decided to give the procedure a go. Dr Jayasinghe was her doctor.

"I had the surgery the next day. It was so simple, quick and easy. It was keyhole surgery," she explained.

Amelia was lucky because even though she was still young, she'd gone through puberty and was getting her period. Which means her body was releasing eggs.

So it would have been possible for her to freeze those eggs before getting chemo.

But egg freezing can take several weeks, and more than one cycle to complete, and that would delay cancer treatment.

"It was something we definitely didn't have time for," Amelia said.

Dr Jayasinghe pointed out that that kind of procedure doesn't work on children.

They're not mature enough, they haven't gone through puberty, to collect mature eggs.

Ovarian grafting can work even for children, because the tissue can be reimplanted after puberty hits.

"The first pediatric program started in around 2013," Dr Jayasinghe said.

Ovarian grafting is a relatively new procedure and is still in the investigation stage of medical research.

There've been about 170 births using this technology.

Dr Jayasinghe said research into the procedure said it works around 30 per cent of the time.

Amelia has been cancer-free for close to seven years now, and she's hopeful that she'll still be able to have babies naturally.

But she's really, really thankful she's got the option of ovarian grafting.

"We've done everything in our power to make sure I do have that opportunity there, and even if I don't want to use it, I don't have to use it. It's always going to be there for me," she said.

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Ovarian grafting: the new treatment helping cancer survivors have children - ABC News

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