A teenage cancer patient receiving chemotherapy will be able to have children thanks to a new type of fertility preservation.
Sophia Millen, from Sittingbourne, was the first person to undergo ovarian tissue cryopreservation (OTC) surgery at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
In September 2021, the 14-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, and has since been receiving chemotherapy at The Royal Marsden Hospital.
Teams from across children’s surgical services and the fertility preservation service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Evelina London, worked closely with Sophia’s clinical team at The Royal Marsden to arrange surgery before she had a stem cell transplant in May.
OTC benefits teenagers and women undergoing cancer treatment who are too unwell to wait and have standard egg collection, which takes two to three weeks.
Faster than other fertility preservation methods, it minimises the delay before cancer therapy can start.
Ovarian tissue is collected through standard keyhole surgery, before a young woman starts cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
"It has been one less thing to worry about while she is undergoing treatment for her cancer..."
When she is ready to start a family, the tissue can be re-implanted through follow-up surgery.
Sophia’s mum, Angela, said: “It has been a huge relief for us that Sophia was able to have this surgery before her transplant, as it offers her the chance to have a family when she’s older.
"It has been one less thing to worry about while she is undergoing treatment for her cancer.
"The past eight months have been a whirlwind for us all – Sophia’s cancer was detected on a routine eye test – and she’s been receiving treatment since under the world expert care of The Royal Marsden.
“As the procedure was done via keyhole surgery, it meant that once Sophia was ready, we could bring her home on the same day so she could recover before having her transplant.
"The teams at The Royal Marsden and Evelina London have been great, really caring and supportive, and we’re so pleased they could come together to make this surgery a possibility for Sophia.”
In 2021, Guy’s and St Thomas’ became one of the first in the UK to offer all possible methods currently available for fertility preservation – such as ovarian tissue freezing as well as standard egg and embryo freezing.
The fertility preservation service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ is one of the biggest in the world.
Pankaj Mishra, consultant paediatric urologist at Evelina London, said: “This was a huge team effort, starting with the collaboration between our trust and The Royal Marsden, to make this treatment as seamless as possible for Sophia and her family.
“Around 40 members of our staff were involved in the operation.
"We're so pleased the hospitals could come together to make this surgery a possibility for Sophia..."
"We brought together teams from across our children’s hospital and women’s services at Guy’s Hospital, including specialist haematologists, anaesthetists, nurses and doctors.
"We were pleased to make this happen safely and quickly in time for Sophia to receive her stem cell transplant at The Royal Marsden.”
OTC also offers women the chance to restore their natural menstrual cycle and function, even if early menopause occurs, as well as the possibility to conceive naturally.
Maxine Semple, the lead of the OTC service team, said: “We are extremely proud that we have expanded our OTC service to care for young women going through cancer treatments.
"Our team have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are providing a service that is changing the face of fertility preservation globally.”
This new service comes thanks to the supporters of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Guy's and St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre.